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The Dark Web

 

To the Reader

 

The Dark Web is the sequel to The Sand Trap, the first book in the Melanie McDougal series. The Sand Trap is available as a Kindle Direct download at Amazon.

While it is not necessary to have read The Sand Trap to enjoy The Dark Web, there are references in this novel to the events in The Sand Trap that would be better understood and appreciated by readers of The Sand Trap.

 

 

The Dark Web

 

WIKIPEDIA, 2017: The Dark Web is the WWW content that exists on darknets, overlay networks that use the Internet but require specific software, configurations or authorization to access.

 

Published by Talon Lake Press at Shakespir

 

 

Copyright 2017 D.G. Marshall

 

License Notes

Thank you for downloading this limited time, free e-book. You are welcome to share it with your friends for two months after the initial publishing date. This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form. If you enjoyed this book, please let the author know at [email protected]

 

For advice with your golf game email Melinda at [email protected]

[* or twitter at @melindagolf *]

 

 

D. G. Marshall

 

 

 

 

The Dark Web

 

 

One

 

February 18, 2016

Tell me what you’re really thinking…

 

 

The camera zoomed in on two men and a woman. The men were dressed in identical sports jackets and ties, although one man had a white dress shirt and the other a blue one. Papers were spread over the table in front of them and all wore oversized headphones with microphones poking out over their mouths. The woman was dressed in a brown, unadorned, men’s style golf shirt. There was no Golf Town near Bumstead, Saskatchewan, so she made do with clothes she picked up at a Mark’s Work Warehouse store when she got a tour stop in Canada. When she had qualified for the PGA TOUR Champions three years ago, Burt had constantly bought her expensive and fashionable women’s golf attire, but she was never comfortable wearing any of it. He could never talk her into to wearing a skirt —or shorts—instead of a pair of khaki Dockers. And she rejected all clothing endorsement offers.

“Look Melanie,” Burt had pleaded. “You might be playing against men but you are a woman. A damn good looking one,” he added with a mock leer. “And you are now a role model for all the young woman who want to be as good as you. You need to dress like a woman.”

“No I don’t,” she always firmly replied. “Young women should learn to be judged on their skill, not the shape of their legs. I’ll stick to what I have always worn.”

Now that he was gone, she could wear what she wanted without complaint.

Her golf clothing had actually changed considerably since her youth. As a young girl at the Folly — her father’s golf course in Saskatchewan— she had simply worn clothing items that men left behind at the course. In the nineteen seventies farm country they were more likely to be Carhartts as Dockers, although she did have a pair of sixties era, Rayon, dress type golf pants she found abandoned behind the sixth tee box. She often wondered what golf frustration led to the doffing of a pair of pants in the middle of the course. At twelve years old she had found a discarded seventies golf magazine with a photo of Hale Irwin on the cover that was her proof that those pants and a discarded golf shirt were just fine. But the old golf shoes from her college days—the ones with one tongue flap missing —were long gone, as was almost everything golf related from her college life. She often lay in bed awake in the middle of the night wishing she could shuck the memories of college as easily as she shucked the shoes.

She fidgeted with the headset and stared at the table. The headset fit tightly over a mass of undisciplined curls. Even at sixty years of age her hair was a natural, glossy auburn. Burt had listened to his blues music on earphones the size of dimes so she knew they don’t really need these big, padded things. Must be for show, she concluded.

“Well Frank,” the younger of the two announcers crooned to his partner while he smiled at the camera and the invisible audience somewhere in the ether of television space. “It looks like the conditions are perfect today for some low scores,”

“Right Bob. The rain last night softened the greens and the Florida sun has warmed the fairways enough to give some roll. That really helps these senior players on this long course.”

“True enough Frank,” Bob purred. “But the leader board includes golfers who really don’t need much help with either softened greens or hard fairways.”

“That’s for sure.” Frank poked at the Dell notebook on the desk in front of him and the leader board was inserted into the TV view. Sharon would tell her later that the leader board insert covered her face. She and Sharon had been best friends and was her caddie during their days at Clapshorn College in Montana. After Burt died, Sharon had taken leave from her professorship at Harvard to join Melanie on the Tour as her caddie. “Looks like no one has to give Couples or Langer a break on the driving range.”

“Right on. And Langer is using that big stick of his on the greens better than I have seen him in years. He only had thirty one putts in the third round today.”

“Well both of those guys are actually still competitive on the regular circuit—although, except for today, Langer had been struggling to adapt to the anchored putter ban.”

“For sure. And he isn’t alone. I noticed that Bradley was using a regular length putter in the regular PGA tournament yesterday.”

“And he three putted twice.”

“Back to the leader board today. Pretty packed at the top?”

“Yes. This is a big money tournament for many of these guys.”

Melanie listened to their inane banter through the headphones. Did people really want to listen to this fluff? People are watching high definition televisions that show the perspiration dripping off a player’s forehead. Do they really need someone to tell them that “…the putt is slowly curving to the hole…?” or, “That one’s gone left Bob…”

Sharon had often pointed out that television ads reflect the audience. “The ads during golf tournaments were mostly Viagra or Cialis,” she regularly reminded Melanie. “It is unlikely that the audience are seventy year old women looking for a pill that would give their partner a bigger boner. So just remember that when one of the ‘guys’ is interviewing you.”

She wanted to turn around and look at the golf course behind her. The announcement/TV booth had a glass wall and sat high above the eighteenth hole. The play on the hole was constantly in the background of their banter and Melanie wanted to see who was on the green now. She politely stared at the table instead, occasionally nodding to the camera as if she either cared or heard what the men were saying.

“Right. Petrobuy is based in Houston and when Chubb dropped the sponsorship last year, they put up the largest prize table on the Tour. And they have matched the prize money with a donation to the winner’s charity of choice. We will have the recently retired CEO of Petrobuy with us tomorrow for the awards ceremony, but I understand he is a fine golfer in his own right?”

“Yes. Elesio Alvarez went to College in Houston, although he is actually a Guatemalan citizen. Petrobuy has many business interests in Florida and the Naples area. I’ve played with him —a one-handicap golfer and a generous philanthropist. I heard that he funds schools back in his home country. We look forward to chatting with him tomorrow.”

“Okay. Back out to the play in a moment for the final few holes. But first, we have a special guest with us today. Welcome Melanie.”

It took a moment for her to realize he was now talking to her. Sharon told her later that her surprise couldn’t be seen since they still had the leader board over her face. It dissolved when she responded.

“My pleasure, Bob.”

“I am Frank. He’s Bob.”

“Still my pleasure, Frank.”

“You had a good round today Melanie. Finished with a fine birdie on 18. Is the course playing unusually easy this weekend?”

“Thanks Frank. And yes, I’d say tying the course record was a good round. Easy? Maybe you should ask that question to the seventy guys that didn’t make the cut?”

Bob intervened.

“This is the first time since you made the men’s PGA TOUR Champions three years ago that you will be on the top of the leader board going into the final day. Any nerves yet?”

“Not really. At my age I am just thankful for another day on the golf course and the privilege of playing with so many gracious old men like yourselves.”

Sharon spit a mouthful of coffee across the hotel room coffee table at that one.

Her fourth year on tour had not been easy for Melanie. Almost all of the players were previous regular competitors on the PGA Tour. The players themselves were unanimously gracious and welcoming. She was the first woman to be a regular on any male professional golf circuit and there was admiration for her skill and the route that got her on the TOUR. Four years ago she had been one of five golfers left standing after a grueling qualification process that started all over the USA with ten thousand ambitious fifty plus golfers. The fact that she was closer to sixty than fifty only added to their admiration. However, neither the media nor the fans were as unanimously supportive.

Frank —the interviewer— had started the public controversy with a column in one of the golf blogs. Burt had taped it to the fridge back home at the Folly.

September 18th, 2012: Golf history was made yesterday when it was announced that Melanie McDougal from Duck’s Ass…oops…Bumstead…Saskatchewan will join the Champion’s Tour for the 2012-2013 season. Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against back woods Saskatchewan or even Canada. They have big fish and I’ll be sure to go there if I ever need to wait a year in line for surgery on my bad knee. And I certainly have nothing against the finer sex. Some of my best friends are women. But this is a wedge that all golfers—of both sexes—need to be vigilant about.

Let’s start with her history.

Her PR blurb says she played her college golf at Clapshorn College in Montana. Okay, we have nothing against the thousands of young golfers and athletes toiling at such colleges around the country. But Montana’s golf season is only three weeks long. And the country has a carefully designed recruiting system that funnels the best golfers—and other elite athletes— into the best universities and colleges in the world. Would you ever see a Clapshorn College in the ‘final four’ during basketball’s March Madness? Not likely. Her questionable success in making the TOUR Champions gives false hope to young athletes at similar three thousand, third-rate colleges around the country. It may even hurt the recruitment of the best to the top tier institutions and dilute the talent pool. And then the level of competitiveness will dive. It could mean the end of the National Collegiate Golf Association, as we know it today.

Then there is her tournament history. She got into the qualifiers on the basis of one tournament win in 1974 —a win over some male golfers whom no one has ever heard of since. But that is the sum total of her tournament life. For the next thirty years there was no golf record of any sort. She wasn’t even in the U.S. She says she was teaching school in Mexico for those thirty years, but an investigation by this writer could find no one who remembered her. And certainly no one who remembered her playing golf. And then a year ago she shows up at the qualifiers and expected all of us to welcome her with open arms? Is she now a Mexican? A Canadian? At least she speaks passable English…eh? The TOUR Champions needs to rethink its qualification criterion on the basis of both tournament history and nationality.

Now to the gender thing. Let me say it outright. Women and men don’t mix on the sports field. From Billy Jean King to Michele Wie, women have been learning the lesson the hard way that the sexes are just built differently. Sure there is the odd Amazon that can beat the odd Woody Allen, but to instill in a generation of young American women the aspiration to compete equally with men is just plain wrong. I wouldn’t want my daughters getting slammed against the boards by P.K. Subban. Or crushed on an end run by ‘the refrigerator’. Or slam dunked by Charles Barkley. And what will happen to the women’s golf tour if all the best young girls join the men’s tour? How will it change the men’s tour when half the participants are women? Bathroom breaks instead of commercial breaks? Wine company tournament sponsors instead of beer companies? Fashion announcers at each hole? Gimme a break.

This McDougal lady may be a freak talent of some sort, but let’s make sure that the golfing world treats her as the freak she is— and not a trend.

It was this kind of controversy that Melanie had feared the most when she was talked into trying for the tour. Golf had always been just golf to her. Not a social statement. Just golf. It was just golf when she beat all comers as a young girl growing up at her father’s golf course. It was just golf when she beat every golfer—boys included— at Clapshorn College. She had been embarrassed thirty years ago when women’s movements made a cause out of her run to victory in the National Collegiate Golf Association men’s championship. Her motives for switching over to the men’s side from the women’s side were much more personal than lofty.

It was a memory that had taken thirty years and another life in Mexico to only partly suppress.

This jerk had started the controversy all over again. All she wanted was play golf. So she did her best to ignore the debate and the furor following his blog. She really didn’t blame him. Burt had warned her when she started the path to the tour the controversy was inevitable. If it had not been Frank it would have been some other Fox news nurtured sports writer who ignited the controversy.

She missed Burt’s counsel on these sorts of things. She and Burt were newly married when she started the tour, but neither had any family to worry about. Her father had died the year after she came back from Mexico. Gord Salmy, Burt’s previous identity, had two children and a granddaughter, but as far as they were concerned he had died in a house fire in 2011. His death had been faked and he had been given the new “Burt” identity, and the resurrected Burt had no family. Melanie knew that giving up a role in his granddaughter’s life had been the hardest part of the identity change. Now Burt had joined Gord as officially dead, this time for real. So except for Sharon, she was on her own. The sponsors, of course, all wanted to be her friend. But she didn’t want the money or the responsibility, so she had turned down every cosmetic and women’s clothing company that had courted her. The only people she had come to care about were the earnest young women in all walks of life who genuinely appreciated her giving them the hope of equity.

She did not have to be polite to Frank.

“Well Melanie,” Frank continued. “You have certainly set the golf fashion industry on its ear. That’s a nice golf shirt you are wearing today for instance. Do you have a custom manufacturer?”

Crowds of women, young and old—Melanie’s followers the press called them— followed her on the golf course dressed in Dockers khakis and men’s golf shirts. The baggier the both the better. She once wore a pair of Carhartts to a press conference and now fans are showing up at the course wearing these work overalls. She had turned down requests from both companies to be her sponsors. And golf shoes with flaps on them—actually just one flap—were making comeback.

“Mark’s Work Warehouse. Off the rack Frank. And those are really nifty sports jackets you two are wearing today. You guys shop at the same Winners?”

Sharon thumped the kitchen table.

Frank glared at her. Bob intervened again. “Let’s get back to golf for a moment Melanie. You had a successful year as a rookie on the Champion’s Tour. Six top tens. You were even a runner up to Langer in a previous Chubb’s. You followed up three years ago with seven top tens, and last year with six. And now you are in contention with a course record matching score today. Yet you have already announced that this will be your last tournament and that you will retire from competitive golf. There is a legion of fans out there —of both sexes by the way—who will be very disappointed. What’s up?”

She paused for a moment before answering. Burt’s death in September had taken away much of her competitive drive. It was he who had found her, brought her back from her life in Mexico and back to golf. It was he —helped by Sharon—who had set her up for the run for the PGA TOUR Champions. The cancer took him quickly. And she had thought that going back to the tour right away would be a salve. She thought she could tuck her grief away in her golf bag. Wrap it around her Taylor Made Superfast. Crush it under the weight of the dozens of comp ProV-1s she never lost. She felt that Burt would have wanted her to do that. They were both wrong.

“Competing wasn’t as satisfying as I thought it would be. I left golf for a long time and when I came back I didn’t have the same passion as I had at college. And before that as a young girl in Saskatchewan.”

Frank interrupted her. “You mean you couldn’t live up to the hype and the pressure?”

“Well I never had the yips like you Frank. But it is true that I have never felt comfortable being promoted as a woman golfer, rather than just a golfer. The media for instance—you guys included—focus more on my gender than my swing. Or even worse, you focused on what I wore. Or whether my hair was its natural colour. If I had not been happily married it would have been my sex life. Today I just matched the course record and it has only had passing mention.”

“That’s not totally true Melanie,” Bob offered. “Your swing has been analyzed by the best teachers in the country. Your deceased husband included. We know what you do. It just seems that no one can replicate it. No one has ever really replicated Moe Norman’s swing either. And you have had a legion of fans.”

Melanie paused. It was actually the fan part that was partly driving her away from the Tour but she couldn’t really articulate it. At least not on television. When she had started on the Tour, Burt had set up a twitter account —#melaniegolf— and the 140 characters poured in. At first she read them herself, but both the abuse and the adulation were too hard for her to internalize. When one tweeter threatened to rape her she had enough. The memory of her last night at Clapshorn was still far too vivid. Burt hired a couple of students from the Bumstead high school to read and answer the tweets. They sorted them into three broad piles— the adulation, the threats and hate, and the political.

Melanie only read the first. A sociology professor from Nipissing University in North Bay, Ontario who specialized in hate crimes had asked to be able to analyze the material in that second category. Melanie didn’t even want to know what they said. The third group was the most challenging for her. She had never set out to represent a cause. But it was inevitable that women’s groups across the country would use her success to support their agendas. She had no problem with that; she just didn’t want to be part of it. She just wanted to play golf. It wasn’t the burden of representing the hopes and aspirations of women that was becoming too much for her, but the notion that the gender equity movement need something as shallow as golf to shore up its case.

“Yes. I am humbled by the support of my fans across the country. I am especially grateful that I was given the opportunity to inspire so many young women—in any area, not just sport—to aspire to any level or position without any consideration of gender.”

“Melanie, our time is almost up today. It is always a pleasure to chat with you.”

Frank was silent.

“But one last question for all of your fans out there. What are you going to do now?”

Before the cancer, Melanie and Burt had been working on a plan. It was Burt’s idea originally —he had been a top competitive golfer in his youth—but she soon enthusiastically endorsed his idea to change the way golf was played. He said he was originally inspired by her father’s attempt to design a nine-hole golf course in the middle of the Saskatchewan prairie. Her father wasn’t a golfer at all, just—as he often told her—a farmer pissed off at golfers. Her mother had run away when Melanie was four years old with a golf pro that got lost on the Trans Canada highway, and the golf course was her father’s way of taking his anger out on every golfer he could find. The course was so different that it had never obtained RCGA approval. However, despite his search for revenge, her father had built a course that was so much fun that people now drove from all across the country to play the Folly.

“I’ll retire to operate the golf course my father built. But if anyone is interested, I am also going to build new golf courses. Courses that bring the fun back into the game and reverse the downward participation spiral.”

“You mean like that silly one in Saskatchewan? That isn’t real golf. Tiny landing areas. Free golf balls at every hole. Paths through corn and wheat fields. Roller coaster greens.”

“What was your score Frank? You played it last year didn’t you?”

“What do you mean ‘downward spiral’?” Frank ignored the question.

“Well, Frank, the number of active golfers is sharply declining despite —maybe because of?— the best efforts of media gurus like you, the best efforts of golf magazines that think the only courses worth writing about have to cost three hundred a round, the promotions of golf manufacturers who have to come up with something new and expensive every year, and the best efforts of instructors who always have a new tip to shave points off your handicap. Add the huge environmental effect of the traditional eighteen hole course, the general unwelcoming environment for women and the weekend duffer, and an economy where people are carefully portioning out their recreational time, it is no wonder that hundreds of golf course close down every year.”

“And you are going to fix that?”

“Yes. Burt had a design for courses that are affordable to build and play. Courses that are environmentally responsible. And most importantly will be fun and welcoming to all.”

“Isn’t that called mini put?” Frank sneered into the camera.

“Be careful Frank. It may be the Friday night mini players that are actually the future of golf. Not past their prime, out of shape old men. I see you are having a little trouble doing up the buttons on that cute jacket. And I love the way your tie makes a little ski jump as it hangs down.”

Sharon fell off the kitchen chair laughing.

Frank actually looked down at his belly. Bob intervened as he touched the headphone with his hand, as if that made the sound clearer.

“Melanie we look forward to hearing more about your course designing in the future. It has been a pleasure chatting with you, but it looks like we have some action on 18. Good luck in the final round tomorrow. Over to you on 18, Harold.”

The television screen dissolved to an announcer standing on a grassy knoll with a green and a crowd behind him.

Melanie removed her headphone as Bob moved over and shook her hand.

“You really have changed the game Melanie. And I know at least my daughters thank you for that.”

“Just temporarily McDougal,” Frank offered. “Golf has lasted over a hundred years without your influence. It will last another hundred.”

“You’re probably right Frank. All that has really changed in the game is that we have gone from gutta percha and hickory, to graphite and urethane. There may be better equipment and more manicured courses, but the players aren’t any better. And attitudes aren’t much different than Victorian times. Longer and longer courses and more and more expensive equipment will not save the game. Changing attitudes might.”

“We’ll see McDougal. We’ll see,” he retorted as he took of his own headphone and turned to face the window overlooking the 18th green.

Bob showed her out of the booth and shook her hand again. “I’ll miss your interviews Melanie. Our ratings seriously spike when people know we are talking to you. With you in the final pairing tomorrow with Freddie and Bernard, I suspect we will have one of the largest TV viewing audiences of the year.”

Melanie remembered a tournament many years ago when an announcer said the same thing to her. She disappeared for thirty years after that tournament. She looked forward to disappearing from public view after this one.

 

TWO

 

February 18, 2016

Give me your best shot…

 

 

She had played in the girls’ game that was on the ice just before the league championship boys’ game, and the Spartan’s coach had watched it only by chance. He had been at the rink early to arrange some after season ice time, and he watched her lead her team to their own league championship. She stopped shot after shot, and two breakaways. Then in the third period—with her team up 4-0—she let in two shots of the type she had been stopping all night.

“Strange,” he thought to himself at the time. When he found out later that his regular goalie was sick, he didn’t hesitate to approach Laura outside of the girls’ dressing room. As with all goalies, she looked very different out of her gear. He only recognized her by the Calgary Flames logo decorated goalie stick she carried.

The first thing he noticed was her height, approaching six feet, he figured. The second was her hair – shoulder length, black with ringlets that bounced as she walked. Her complexion was dark like her hair. Her facial features didn’t instantly strike him as beautiful, but when she looked at him her azure blue eyes made his skin tingle.

“Congratulations. Nice game out there. I am Ronald Foster,” he offered as he put out his hand.

She dropped the handle of the goalie equipment bag and returned the handshake.

“Laura Alvarez. Thanks.”

“Too bad about those last two goals. I thought that you were going to get a shutout.”

“No one is perfect.”

“Okay. So you say. You looked pretty good to me. Look. I am the coach of the Spartans and our goalie is out for tonight’s game. I wonder if I could talk to your parents about you playing for my team tonight?”

“The Spartans? You guys are the city rep team? Most of your players think they are pro bound. And you want a girl?”

“To be honest, it is either you, a boy from one of the rec leagues, or we forfeit. From what I’ve seen we would be better off with you.”

“My parents aren’t here. My dad lives in Guatemala and my Mom is at school, but my coach has signed permission slips.”

“So you will do it?”

Laura stared at her shuffling feet. “Will the team —and the league— agree? Has a girl ever played in the boys’ league before?”

“Not that I know of. But then I don’t know of any rule that says she can’t.”

She decided she liked this guy. Most of the men players and coaches were either solicitous or simply ignored her. At least he was honest about why he wanted her and she had no worries about playing in the boy’s league—at any level. She knew that she could stop any shot from any angle from any player her age or perhaps older. The only goals that were scored on her were either the flukes from a crowd around the net, or ones that she let in on purpose. The two earlier tonight were on purpose. It made the losing team feel better. Her grandfather had always warned her to never show off.

It was a fine line for her. Without her hockey talent she would not have been accepted by most of the other girls her age. She was too tall. She didn’t dress the right way —athletic sweat clothes were not on the Lulu Lemon best dressed list. She thought Justin Beiber was a foolish little boy. She and her Mom listened to Feist and Neil Young. She wasn’t a good student. Apparently her athletic talent didn’t extend to memory or mathematics comprehension. She and her mom had a computer in the apartment, but they could only afford one cellphone. While the other girls texted and talked during school breaks, she watched them. She had a Facebook account that was almost totally dedicated to hockey—scores and player profiles for both men and women teams across the country. Her only Facebook friends were from the Calgary Flames fan club or from her hockey team.

It didn’t really bother her that most of the girls ignored her at school. She garnered all the respect she needed in the rink —or at any athletic event. She just had to be careful to not be too good. Some already referred to her as a ‘freak’ behind her back. Boys were another matter. She had always liked playing with the boys better than with the girls. They never teased her, just treated her as another ‘player’.

“Sure. I’ll do it. When?”

“Right now. Go back in the dressing room and get geared up. I’ll meet you on the ice when you are ready. I’ve got to go and talk to my team and parents.”

“That will be interesting? Will they agree?”

“Victory greed is a strong motivator.”

The parents and players on his team were more than willing to give it a try. A couple of the players said they had heard how good Laura was. As it turned out, the problem wasn’t with his team, but with the opposition —the Nighthawks. The opposition from the other team was fierce and vocal. They insisted on a ruling by the league convener who was attending the championship game. While some of the opposition was motivated by an easy forfeit win of the city championship, other motivations were not so simple. One man with two sons on the team argued vehemently that women had no place in men’s sports.

“I will not allow my sons to be tainted with the presence of a girl on the ice,” he ranted.

He tried religion. “God meant the genders to be separate…and women to be subservient to their husbands.”

He tried safety. “My sons’ shots are so hard they will kill the young girl.”

He tried fairness. “Our boys are gentlemen. They will not try as hard with a girl in net.”

All arguments were to no avail. There had been at least one precedent with a female goalie playing for NAIT in Edmonton and the league convener was smart enough to know this was not an issue he wanted to tackle today. So Laura was cleared to play. When she skated out to the net to begin the warm up, there were catcalls from the crowd about the place of women in society, but as members of Laura’s girls’ team moved into position behind the callers — the previous father protester and a couple of men beside him—the taunting slowed.

And all taunts stopped as the game progressed through the first period.

She stopped everything the Nighthawks could throw at her. Slapshots. Wrist flips. In front of the net deflections and even a breakaway by their top scorer. She always seemed to be in the right place to thwart every shot.

Meanwhile the Spartans scored two goals and at the end of the first period the score was 2-0.

The second period began with a different strategy by the Nighthawks. A forward was always in front of Laura, almost in her crease. Every time the play headed down to the Spartans end of the ice, the Nighthawks forward looked to where the referee was standing before saying something only Laura could hear— and then butt ending her in the stomach. The crowd noticed the attacks and by the end of the second period the crowd—and the Spartan coach—were hoarse from yelling at the referee who seemed to always be looking the other way when Laura was butt ended.

At the end of the second period it was still 2-0 Spartans.

On the first rush of the third period to the Spartans end, the same forwards that had been harassing and poking her in the second period, took turns crashing into the net and Laura. The referee decided in each instance that they could not stop their forward momentum and it wasn’t goalie interference, although everyone in the crowd knew differently.

Laura kept stopping everything the Nighthawks threw at her, always seeming to be exactly in the right place to block or catch a shot. The Nighthawks scored on a fluke scramble in front of the net, but by the fifteen- minute mark of the third, the Spartans were minutes away from a victory and the city championship.

With four minutes left, Laura skated behind the net to stop an iced puck. Her back was to the net and she didn’t see—or expect— a hit. Peter Gravelle, one of the harassing forwards and one of the sons of the earlier protester, came at her from behind at full speed. His cross check to her back lifted her off her feet and slammed her face first into the glass. Her helmet flew off and the crowd was suddenly quiet as she crumpled and lay on the ice not moving, her long—and now sweat soaked—curly, black hair spread on the ice.

One voice from the stands broke what seemed minutes of silence. “I told you women can’t take it in a men’s game.”

The rest of the crowd, even Nighthawk fans and parents started yelling at the protesting father. Some Spartan’s parents held back the girls from Laura’s team.

By this time Foster and his assistant coach were on the ice kneeling beside an immobile Laura. The referees were trying to separate Spartan players from the Nighthawk players who had gone to the defense of Gravelle. No one wanted to fight. Dropping your gloves to fight in this league could mean as much as a season suspension. As players danced in couples, holding each other’s sweaters, Gravelle stood toe to toe with a tall defenseman from the Spartans.

“That takes care of the girls,” he spat in the boys face. “Indians like you are next.”

The tall boy didn’t react or respond, just stared at Gravelle and constantly moved to keep him from going near Laura.

All players from both sides stopped the dancing and the crowd cheered as Laura stood up. She was shaking her head at Foster clearly saying “no” over and over again. The assistant picked up her helmet and Laura slowly wrapped her black curls together before tucking them under the helmet.

“Let’s play hockey,” she yelled to the referee as she picked up her stick and skated back into her crease.

Gravelle was given a two minute minor for goalie interference.

With two minutes left, Gravelle and his brother were back on the ice for a final shift. The Nighthawks pulled their goalie for a sixth attacker. As soon as the play went into the Spartans end, the second Gravelle brother skated directly at Laura. This time she didn’t wait for him to hit her. She raised her stick like a baseball bat and slashed him across the back of the legs as he skated by the crease. He tumbled into the boards holding the back of his legs.

“Wayta go girl!” one of her old teammates yelled.

The referee raised his hand. Laura was given a two-minute slashing penalty and the Spartans were down two players —the penalty and the extra player from the pulled goalie.

The faceoff was in the Spartan’s end and almost before the puck was dropped Peter Gravelle rushed Laura. Again she was ready and before he could do anything she poked the butt end of her stick in his groin and then whacked him across the back of his helmet.

The referee’s hand was up before Gravelle hit the ice.

The cheering came from every corner of the stands.

And the Spartans were down three players with two minutes to go in the game. One Nighthawk goal would put the game into overtime.

From Laura’s perspective, up to this point it had not been a very tough challenge to stop the Nighthawk players. Their shots were a little harder than she was used to, and they skated faster to get into position, but it wasn’t anything that she couldn’t handle.

Her grandfather had a name for her special attribute—she could never remember it —spatial something or other— and he told her he had it as well. In fact, he told her everyone has the ability to perceive and analyze their environment, it is just that some can do it faster than others. Many successful athletes have this skill. Her grandfather had used Wayne Gretzky’s famous comment about skating to where the puck is going as an example. She just called it fast reflexes, although the brain’s processing of the environment was somewhat more complicated than such a simple phrase implied. He had recognized her talent one summer when she was eight and they were playing soccer in the park. In order to motivate her he had offered an ice cream cone for every shot of his she stopped. Over the course of the next hour she earned a lifetime of ice cream and the first understanding that she was a little different. Every subsequent year when she visited her grandparents in Ottawa he would tell her a little more about what she could —and shouldn’t do—do with her talent.

Much to her grandmother’s disgust he also taught her martial arts—some Korean thing with another name she could never remember either. It seemed her special brain talents didn’t extend to special memory. But is was fun and they sparred together every summer. She was much faster than him and earned more ice cream whenever she won. But martial arts were only for her protection as a young girl, not a sport to play. He told her it wouldn’t have been fair to compete in this type of sport. It was he who suggested being a goalie in hockey. He had been a top professional hockey prospect in his youth but a blown out knee relegated him to the golf course rather than the ice. Most importantly he told her to never show off, and the goalie position was something she could control. She could always ensure her team won, without letting anyone know that she had a different brain. Her grandfather told her people wouldn’t understand and they wouldn’t like her if she was so obviously better that them.

She did want to be liked. It wasn’t easy for a too tall, non-Caucasian, gangly, single parented, fifteen-year old to fit into the social strata of the local high school. But she found good friends on the ice and she wanted to keep them. But none of these boys on the Nighthawks were her friends. And she felt it was time her skill was really tested. With six on three for two minutes she would show them what she could do.

“Sorry Gramps, “ she quietly whispered as she skated back to the crease. “But tonight I am going to show off.”

Laura’s skills had not gone unnoticed by Foster or anyone else on the Spartan bench. He asked for a timeout and called his three defensemen over to the bench.

“Just clear the front of the net and make them shoot from the point.”

Each of the players nodded, understanding that this was now Laura’s game to win or lose.

“Adrian,” Foster looked at the tall First Nations boy. “Your job is the front of the crease. Don’t let either of the Gravelle brothers stand there or harass her.”

“My pleasure coach,” Adrian grinned through his white teeth guard.

“Richard and Josh, you two keep the wings busy and leave points alone.”

They both nodded and all three went to the playoff circle to the right and in front of Laura.

The Nighthawks won the faceoff.

The puck went back to the point as both Gravelle brothers rushed the net and ran into a big and determined Adrian who bodily cleared them from the front of the net, leaving a clear shot from the point. It became the first of twenty-two shots that Laura stopped—caught or deflected— over the next two minutes. The three defensemen just cleared the path for her to see the shots. She stopped them all. When the buzzer sounded the Spartans mobbed her, some not sure whether they should “pile on” a girl. When they all looked up from the celebration, the Nighthawks had left the ice without the usual handshake, and the Spartan’s were the city champions.

Her teammates from her other team had come onto to the ice to congratulate her, but they soon left with their own parents. The players and parents from the Spartans were going out to dinner to celebrate and they invited Laura to join them, but she declined. Off the ice she was far less confident, especially around boys. And she had no available parent to join her and share her victory. She thought for a moment how her Grandpa would have enjoyed tonight. He would have scolded her for showing off, but he appreciated her resolve and competitive spirit. She missed him a lot. She thought of her own family circumstances and almost cried as she sat on the bench by herself, still in her goalie equipment.

“I don’t cry anymore, “ she announced to the empty dressing room.

Besides, she rationalized, this was only one game in a long season. It is the injured regular goalie that should be celebrating with them. And she didn’t notice any great disappointment from the other parents when she said she wouldn’t join them for dinner.

Foster offered to drive her home but she declined that as well, telling him she liked the walk and he needed to be with his team. He thanked her again for filling in tonight.

Soon she was walking by herself on her usual trek through the old military base.

 

THREE

Sunday, February 19, 2016

 

No one remembers third place…

 

 

Elesio Alvarez sat in the announcer’s booth overlooking the eighteenth hole at the Woodland’s Course in Naples, the new home of the Petrobuy Open. It had been one of his last duties as the President of Petrobuy to start sponsorship of this Florida stop on the Champion’s Tour. Golf had always been a passion and one of his retirement projects would be to build a golf course in Belize, across the border from his home in Flores, Guatemala. He figured that a golf course near the new cruise ships docks in south Belize would be a winner.

But now it looked like a woman was going to win his golf tournament and he wasn’t sure how he felt about that.

Like any one with an interest in golf, he had heard of this strange woman who had inexplicably worked her way up through the qualification tournaments to make the men’s TOUR Champions golf tour. Out of curiosity he had watched her earlier that week. The first time he watched her swing he broke out laughing. Not only did he think she dressed like a Miami street person, her swing was simply ugly. While she had good rhythm and she seemed to strike the ball well, her arms stuck straight out in front of her at address. And she didn’t follow though with a wrap around. She finished with her club pointed straight ahead at the direction of the ball flight. He had studied every golf instruction manual ever written, taken instruction from the best in the country, and he had never heard of anyone teaching this swing.

As he followed her round he became increasingly impressed with her focus and her precision. It was as if she knew exactly where each shot would land. Her deceased husband had been a golf instructor with some unique ideas of his own. Before the man died —one of his last actions Elesio figured—he had responded to the RFP for the Belize course with a design for a new type of golf course. Solomon’s Seal the man had called it. It was a creative idea, as he remembered. A golf course organized in the shape of a six-petal flower, with each petal being three holes of varying difficulty and length. He learned from the interview he had watched with the woman yesterday that she was continuing the design work. “I’ll have to pull out the proposal and look at it again,” he mused as he watched her approach her second shot on 18.

The final threesome was tied at twelve under coming into eighteen. A playoff was certainly a good prospect for his company sponsorship, and you couldn’t have two more gracious and popular senior players than the German and the American. But he didn’t know how he felt about handing the first Petrobuy trophy to a woman. He knew that women found his appearance little repulsive, so he avoided them unless they were ones that he controlled. After watching her interview with Frank and Bob, he decided he didn’t want to go on television with her.

All three hit centre fairway drives on eighteen, although both men outdrove the woman by thirty yards. The announcer whispered that she had chosen a nine iron from a hundred and fifty yards. With no practice swing she stood up to the ball, made her odd swing and hit the ball into the greenside bunker. There were loud disappointed “ahhhs” from her large supportive gallery, but she just waved and smiled as she waited for the others to hit their shots. Both hit the centre of the green and made their pars for the playoff. The woman missed a long par putt and graciously accepted hugs from the men before melting into the crowd beside the green.

“ I guess the pressure got to her,” he announced to his bodyguards, secretly relieved that he would be interviewed after the tournament without her.

Alvarez enjoyed the interview with Langer after the tournament. He had only asked that they be interviewed sitting at a table so that the television audience couldn’t see the disproportion between his arms and his legs.

“Bernard, congratulations on another senior tour win,” Frank had started.

“Thanks Frank. It was a challenging day out there. Freddie played exceptionally well.”

“Yes. Four playoff holes. We were starting to wonder if we would be coming back tomorrow. And Elesio. Exciting enough for Petrobuy’s first sponsorship?”

“For sure, Frank. Congratulations again, Bernard. And Petrobuy is delighted to match your winner’s check with a donation to the charity of your choice.”

They continued to talk about the golf course, the weather, Bernard’s health, and the latest controversy over sidesaddle putting.

None of them mentioned Melanie McDougal.

No one ever remembers third place.

 

FOUR

 

February 28, 2016

Pick on someone your own size….

 

 

She noticed them when she was half way through the air base.

She watched them, in the smoky dusk of the city of two million cars, as they ran between the mostly repurposed military buildings, still green trimmed, but long ago leased to various enterprises—a golf cart manufacturer, a private religious elementary school, an electronic recycling shop, a gymnastics club, and even a movie production company. At this time of the evening all had closed for the day, the employees leaving the imagined sanctity of the military base for the anonymity of the city. Her mother had told her that she should not walk through the old base at night. “It is just not safe dear,” she admonished every time. “There are wild animals there at night. I saw a moose there one night.” A moose was a stretch, but Laura knew that the coyotes patrolled the area at night, seeking out the fat, flower garden fed, hares that overpopulated the southwest corner of Calgary.

She glimpsed one of the men as he ran behind a small garage fifty yards to her left. “These hares have two legs,” Laura announced. She tried not to quicken her pace too obviously.

The route through the base was the straightest line between the arena and home, a basement apartment she and her mother rented in the Killarney area of southwest Calgary. The effort of dragging a bag of goalie equipment required as short a route as possible. She had rigged up a set of wheels on the heavy bag—the kind that travellers used before the introduction of colorful molded plastic suitcases with built in wheels—but it was still a slog to drag the bag and wheels over curbs and ice covered, frost heaved sidewalks. In fact, in the evening, it was easier to pull the bag over the empty base roads than sidewalks. At least these roads were still cleaned in the winter. She had tried public transit once, but had to endure the frosty stares of the other passengers as a tall fifteen-year old girl and her large hockey bag took up extra seats. And since there was no direct bus from the arena to the apartment she had to go almost downtown to make a transfer to get home. Dragging her equipment through the base was better. She had done it many times over the past two winters with no problem.

Until tonight.

At first she thought there were three of them, although it was hard to tell when you are looking out of the corners of your eyes. She purposely dropped her goalie stick. As she leaned down to pick it up she untied and tied her hiking boats to give her an opportunity to glance around. She could make out four shapes from the different ways they ran. Two of the figures sprinted lightly like athletes. The first one she had noticed lumbered between hiding places. The last one she saw followed a distance behind the others and had been the hardest to spot.

She laughed to herself as she thought about their clumsy subterfuge. “Maybe it is just a game of some sort?” she whispered as she tried to keep her eyes straight ahead as she walked, not letting them know she was on to them.

They showed themselves as she approached an intersection lit by flickering overhead streetlights. A green trimmed and shuttered building with a row of eight garage doors faced the road on the right. A razor wire protected, two-story building was on the left. She guessed the former must have been a garage of some sort, although it now sat unused, weeds slipping up between cracks in the broken pavement in front of the folding doors. There were no weeds on the manicured grass inside the razor wire that protected the building. She had walked this way during the day and watched the green military trucks come and go. She sometimes tried to imagine what Canadian military secrets the fence and wire protected.

One hooded figure stood under a winter stripped maple tree that was surrounded by the garage’s circular driveway. Another figure stood on the driveway in front of the locked gate to the military building. The third—the lumbering one— moved onto the road and stood under the streetlight, blocking the road ahead and her route home. Although he was thickset, he wasn’t tall. She guessed maybe five six. She was ten metres away and in the hazy light above his head, still couldn’t see his hooded face. He leaned on a hockey stick, the butt end poking under his chin, the blade resting obliquely on the pavement in front of him.

“Looks like an awfully heavy bag for a little girl like you to be pulling around,” he offered, more as a statement than a question.

Laura stopped in the middle of the road. “I am not little. Taller than you.” At five feet eleven inches, she had not been called ‘little’ for a long time.

“Yeah? How’d you get so tall at your age girl? Steroids or some African genes in your family?”

She was dark skinned, but it wasn’t African. South American Indian and Spanish blood hued the Scottish side of her gene pool. But she didn’t see any purpose in explaining that while standing in the middle of the road on a quickly darkening February evening.

She moved to her right to pass but he moved as well, showing his intention to block her path wherever she turned. She thought of turning around and running back, but assumed that the fourth person was blocking that route. Besides, although she was sure she could outrun any of them, she didn’t want to leave her goalie equipment behind. It had taken two years of babysitting savings to buy it and neither she nor her mother could afford to replace it.

“What do you want? Ten below is a little chilly for an evening rape don’t you think?”

“Smart mouth as well as show off I see,” the man replied as he lowered his hood. “No. No rape. I wouldn’t let my boys touch someone like you. No. We just want to teach you a little lesson in humility.”

She recognized him right away. He was the father of two boys on the opposing team from tonight’s game who had led the protest about her playing for a boys’ team. Now she found herself standing in the middle of the empty road in front of an angry father.

“What do you want?”

“ I told you. Me and the boys need to teach you your place,” he offered as he motioned to the figures standing in the dark at the sides of the road. “You embarrassed my sons tonight. And you slashed them both. Let’s see how tough you are without a referee and hiding behind all of that goalie stuff.”

Peter Gravelle glided from the front of the wire fence to edge of the road and lowered his hood. Although she had never seen him without his equipment on, she recognized the permanent scowl that she had seen every time he stood in front of her net or crashed into her. He was a six feet two inch tall sixteen-year old, taller than her and much heavier. He was dressed in a black hoodie, some sort of black tights and form fitting black gloves. She figured he would be cold in that outfit at minus ten. He moved back and forth on the balls of his feet, perhaps to keep warm, she thought. He held a hockey stick. Not like he was going to take a shot, but with the blade pointed up and out, and his two hands a foot apart on the stick. The only time she had seen anything like that was when she and her grandfather played with Korean bamboo things—called something like jangbons she remembered—and that was the way he showed her how to hold it.

The other Gravelle son—she could never remember his name—also moved to the edge of the road on her right. He was dressed the same as Peter. He was a short, squat and a heavy- set carbon copy of his father. He stomped to the edge of the road. He stood more tentatively than his brother but held his stick in the same way.

Laura dropped the handle of the large goalie bag and gripped her own stick. She had sparred often with her Grandfather, but they never hit each other and it was with those bamboo things and not hockey sticks. She almost always won, but there was just one of him, not three of them. And he was never angry and wanted to hurt her.

“My boys are as skilled in Tai Kwan Do as they are on the blades,” the father announced with a sneer. “Maybe a few bruises will make you think twice about leaving your place in society.”

Both boys began to move towards her. Peter moved like a cat approaching a bird. The other boy more waddled than walked. And both had their sticks raised to attack. The father picked up his own stick in the same Tai Kwan Do stance.

Laura raised her own stick.

“Three against one is a little unfair don’t you think? But then you Gravelles never play by the rules do you?” a voice announced from the darkness behind her.

The boys stopped and stared behind Laura.

Laura kept her eyes on the boys; now realizing that the fourth person she had seen wasn’t with them.

Adrian Twobirds stepped out of the shadows behind Laura and stood on her left between her and Peter. He was taller than Peter, although not as heavy. His long black hair was held in a ponytail and covered with a red Calgary Flames toque. He was dressed in a blue down jacket and dark brown, leather work gloves. He carried a metre length of two by four like a baseball bat.

“Hey there,” he spoke to Laura, keeping his eyes on the two boys. “Mind if I join the party?”

“What makes you think I need help?” she asked as she glanced back over at Peter. “Okay. Maybe. You ever fought with that thing before?”

“Sure. Me and the boys on the reserve are always whacking each other with old two by fours.”

Peter attacked first.

Laura needed to see to effectively use her skills. Her Grandfather had explained that it was a visual brain-processing thing. As long as she can see around her, she can process all of the circumstances of her environment extraordinarily fast and react. Consequently, when she looks at the play in front of her net she can simultaneously process the movement of all players and the puck. All goalies do the same thing; it is just that she does it quickly. Adrian was blocking her view of Peter and she was trying to keep an eye on the father and son number two so she didn’t process his attack soon enough. Peter’s Tai Kwan Do skill was more than a match for Adrian’s baseball grip held two by four and three quick swings and Adrian was lying beside her with a slash to the back of his legs and whack to his forehead.

“This is sort of like the reverse of Custer’s last stand, eh?” Peter laughed and the others joined him as they moved closer to Laura, brother two circling behind her.

Adrian got up and stood beside her again, still holding the piece of wood, but with blood slowly seeping from a cut on his forehead.

“Stand with your back to me,” she ordered. “Watch my back. Where I can’t see.”

Peter attacked again, but this time Laura could see. It was evident that he was skilled at the martial art. And he was fast as well, but not as fast as her grandfather—or her. To his surprise, she easily fended him off with her goalie stick, though resisted an attack of her own. Most of what she had been taught was defensive, not aggressive.

He attacked again. As she fended him off again with her own quick stick movements, she caught motion as the father approached her from the middle of the road. She hoped that Adrian could handle brother two as the father attacked her. This time she knew that she had to hit back as well and as the father raised his stick she jammed her own stick in his groin while turning to face Peter again. She glanced behind her to see brother two and Adrian circling each other, neither willing to attack. She guessed brother two wasn’t as skilled as Peter. Her attack on the father and her glance at Adrian had taken time and Peter used it to get his own blow on Laura’s back. It hurt, but the padding of a down winter coat diffused much of the blow and she resumed her stance before he could strike again.

The father writhed on the ground. She hoped she had stopped him from having any more children like these.

She now turned her full attention and skill to Peter. He attacked again with an overhead swing, which she parried easily. She faked a side swing then jabbed her butt end into his exposed solar plexus.

Peter gasped for air. The hit wasn’t hard but he was clearly confused. This had not gone as he had planned. Instead of humiliating her, she was humiliating him again. Suddenly he wasn’t so sure he wanted to fight and he slowly backed off. The father had stood up, holding his hand over his groin. Son two was still dancing with Adrian.

“Let’s get out of here Dad. Before someone comes.”

The three of them slowly backed away, still holding their sticks in a defensive position. When they were out of the light they ran.

Laura stood still for a moment, still holding her stick in the air. She started to tremble dropped the stick. Adrian dropped the two by four and came around and put his arms around her in a gentle hug. He was taller than her—rare in boys her age. She absorbed the hug and leaned her head on his chest and started to cry. At first it was a gentle sob.

“I am sorry Grandpa,” she mumbled as the emotions of the whole evening—the hockey game—the attack— all poured out onto Adrian’s chest.

 

FIVE

 

March 10, 2016

Jesus saves the little children….

 

 

In the usual Catholic tradition of proselytization, the seventeenth century progenitor of Saint Simon Peter School for Girls needed to be built on the highest part of land in Flores, Guatemala. Since Flores is actually a small island in Lake Petén Itza, finding a suitable hill posed something of a challenge to the early Catholic missionaries, so they built on a mainland hilltop a kilometre into the jungle from what is now known as the suburb of Saint Helena. Of course the original structure was neither a girls’ school, nor named after Saint Peter. Either change would have sent the original monkish occupants of the church into a state of apoplexy.

The Spanish missionary Hermano Pedro de San José Betancourt—Hermano Pedro for short — founded the original mission in the seventeenth century. The building became known as the Betancourt Monastery after the church built a more substantial worship site on Flores Island. When Elesio Gomez Alvarez bought it from the church in 2002 it had been abandoned for over fifty years. The church readily agreed to sell the property to one of Guatemala’s most significant philanthropists so he could establish a school for wayward and abandoned teenaged girls.

The name was another matter. Betancourt had been made a Guatemalan saint in 2002 and the church wanted to name the school after him. Alvarez argued that it needed a more culturally sensitive name. He had wanted to call it the Maximon School for Girls, the word a Mayan amalgam of Saint Simon and Mam, a Mayan God symbolizing male power and a popular cult figure with locals. Rome balked at so heathen a label, so he proposed the Saint Simon Peter. Locally everyone knew that this was simply another name for Maximon, but it passed Roman muster, so they agreed to sell him the property. While the old monastery was mostly in ruins when he bought it, he felt the structure suitable for a Residential School. And for thirteen years the Saint Simon Peter School for Girls—Maximon to the local Indians — had been flourishing on a hilltop outside of Flores, Guatemala.

Alvarez could have located the school anywhere in the country, hilltop or not. Although he was gradually divesting himself of his Guatemala interests, he still owned land in every corner of Guatemala and could have chosen many places for his school. But both Flores and the old Betancourt monastery served his purposes. Flores had the second largest airport in Guatemala, large enough to accommodate the international flights that provided convenient access to the school from his Texas home. It was also the closest city to the Tikal ruins and the increasingly steady steam of short-term foreign visitors. It was a setting conducive to foreign visitors, in particular the donors and aid agencies he was trying to convince to support this school, and build others in Central America. But most importantly it was the closest city to his mother’s home, a now abandoned Indian village in the jungle north of the city.

Flores also provided convenient access to the Belize border and his future golf course site, one hundred kilometres away by small plane, or a much further distance by the dirt tracks, unregulated jungle trails and cataract pimpled rivers that cross border traders preferred. The border had always been pervious to the locals, trading back and forth the goods that each country could provide. Border Guatemala villages provided cheap clothing and textiles while the Belizean communities provided medical supplies and food staples. The only realistic control of the jungle tangled border areas between Belize and Mexico was from the various Guatemalan rebel gangs that still roamed and robbed in their jungle territory, sometimes making the trip to the Tikal ruins an adventure for unaware tourists driving from San Ignacio in Belize. There was a time before his oil days when he made money from the cross border commerce. However his influence had waned over the years as he spent his time building his Houston based oil empire rather than paying attention to his Guatemalan interests. It was only since building the school —he called it his retirement project—that he had shown any renewed interest in the politics of the region. He had rebuilt his influence with the few remaining bandits, both to help his old friends and neighbors —some employees as well, and mostly Indians—who still relied on the trade business.

The Mexican drug runners, especially the Mexican ex paramilitaries — the Zetas— who had set up operations near the Mexican border were another story and considerably more dangerous and troublesome. It was rumoured that segments of the modern Kaibiles — and some important politicians —were partners in the drug trade with the Zetas. He hoped that the overthrow of the obviously corrupt Perez government by Jonathon Morales might clean up some of that corruption and the partnerships with the Zetas. But as long as they stayed away from Flores and left the Indian traders and farmers alone he had decided that it was none of his business.

“How are the new girls settling in?” Alvarez asked as he sat in a leather sofa chair across from Juan Garcia, the school headmaster.

“The girl from Mexico City may be a challenge.”

“How old is she?”

Garcia handed Alvarez an eight by ten coloured photo of a young girl sitting on a park bench.

“Says she is thirteen.”

“She is beautiful. Any family? Why us?”

“These kids always have family somewhere, but this one lost family—at least all known family—in a drug related massacre. The social workers found her walking the streets of Mexico City in daze, and since she was likely a witness to something drug related they thought it best to get her out of the country. Sergio’s contact suggested her to us and she has been here for a week now.”

“Is she smart?”

“Yeah. Seems that she had some fancy schooling. She is far ahead of our local girls in everything. Even speaks some English.”

Alvarez raised his eyebrows at the latter. They didn’t get many English-speaking girls at the school. “Do you think that she will settle in?”

Garcia looked above his desk at the ceiling of the comfortably appointed office as if the answer was written there. “Maybe in a couple of months when she sees that she can get a good future and good education here.” He paused. “But if not, she might even try and run away. She speaks Spanish and we aren’t far from the Mexican border.”

When his only son Sergio Alvarez came back to Guatemala from Canada two years ago and asked if he could help out at the school, Elesio enthusiastically agreed. Sergio was thirty-six and had yet to be successful at anything in his life. While he was surprised at his son’s interest in saving wayward girls, he decided that if it was something his son was interested in and might do well, then Alvarez was all for it. It was Sergio’s idea to expand the school from Guatemalan girls to international girls. Apart from the fact that there were legions of displaced young people all over the world that could be ‘saved’, he argued that the presence of an international cohort would be an educating influence for the local girls. Alvarez was impressed with his initiative. He had always hoped that he could hand the school over to Sergio and was cautiously optimistic that this could be the start of a leadership transition.

“Is she still in the room at the villa?”

Sergio had also established a routine of putting the new international girls in one of the bedrooms in the villa for a ‘transitional’ period—until they were sufficiently acclimatized to move into the general student residence. The villa was a new, modern home situated on three hectares of land adjacent to the school. It was hidden from view from the school by a fifty-metre swath of natural jungle that served as a thick and natural hedge around the whole property. The villa itself sat in the middle of the area defined by the hedge, and was enclosed by rampaging Hibiscus plants. It was accessed by a single lane, dirt road that led from the school, through the ‘hedge’ and to a circle driveway. A ten meter covered veranda extended the full circumference of the building. The circle driveway fronted the veranda at the entrance to the building. Building the villa had been another of Sergio’s ideas. Elesio had a small villa overlooking Lake Petén on Flores Island and didn’t need any other place to stay when he visited the school, but Sergio suggested that the school villa could double as his own residence and a guest home for visitors, either donors or visiting delegations. Elesio was once again impressed with his son’s initiative and the villa was built two years ago.

“How many runaways this year? The minister will ask.”

Garcia studied some papers on his desk. “Four of the local girls. We don’t know where they went. Probably back to the city to their druggy boyfriends.”

Alvarez nodded. It was always the local girls that ran away to family or friends. Only one international girl had ever run away as far as he knew. She was from Argentina and spoke Spanish so she might have made it home. But they never heard anything.

Alvarez handed the photo back. “Well I hope she comes around. Looks like a nice girl. Is everything ready for the ceremony today? The Chief Minister of Social Programs will be here and she will want her picture taken with some of the girls.”

“Yes. I’ve picked twelve of our best girls, ten locals and two foreign, to meet with the minister and give her a tour of the facilities. These are truly good news stories Eliseo. Without the school they would all have been dead or on the street destitute. You should be proud of what you have done for them.”

They were interrupted by a buzz of Garcia’s iPhone sitting on top of his mahogany desk.

“Yes? Thanks.” He put the phone in his pocket and stood up. “They are here.”

“Right. Let’s get this over with.”

Alvarez stood in front of the large mirror on the office wall and adjusted the knot in his blue silk tie. Even during his infrequent visits to places like Flores he wore his finest suits. Today’s suit was cream linen, custom made by his personal tailor in Houston. Custom tailoring was necessary with his sixty-year old body. An unusual genetic mix up of Mayan and Spanish ancestry had produced long Mayan arms and large hands on a squat body. His hair was Spanish black and curly, but it framed a wide jawed Mayan face. As a child the other boys had teased him. The girls in the school gave him the nicknames “el mono” —the monkey —or “howler” for the particular kind of simian common to the area.

No one has paid the price of teasing him or calling him “howler” to his face for forty-five years.

The opening office door brought him back to the present.

“Senorita Minister,” he smiled as he extended his hand. “We are honored by your visit to our school.”

“Thank you Eliseo, but it is our pleasure to see first hand the wonderful work that you and your school,” she nodded to the Headmaster, “are doing with these young people.”

They both held the handshake and turned to the camera smiling as photos were taken.

She turned to a stout, middle-aged woman standing beside her. Her black hair and dark complexion suggested that she wasn’t Caucasian, but working for the UN she could be from anywhere. “I would like to introduce Isabel Bethune from the United Nations Institute for Children.”

Eliseo shifted to English.

“My pleasure Ms. Bethune. Welcome to Guatemala and our humble school.”

More photos were taken.

She replied in Spanish.

“Isabel, please. We have heard much about what you have funded her in Flores, Senor Alvarez. The UN has always believed that the education of the youth will be the road to national development. And the education of young girls the route to social equity.”

“Ah. You speak Central American Spanish. Honduras?”

“Nicaraguan. Like you, my relatives—my grandparents actually— died for their beliefs. Like you— and Minister Ortega —I hope to have a small role in reviving the democracy they fought for. Educated young people, especially young women, can never be suppressed again.”

“I whole heartedly agree…Isabel. As you know it is the memory of my mother that was my motivation for starting this school. Let’s go meet some of these wonderful young people.”

The school had kept the basic shape of the original monastery, with various rooms fanning out from a central courtyard. The Headmaster’s office was the first room at the entrance to the courtyard.

“Do you get here often Senor Alvarez? With your many business interests I am surprised you can get here at all?”

“Eliseo, please. It is a challenge, but I get such pleasure from these visits I try and come at least once a month. With a private jet, good airport and my second home here in Flores it is much easier than it used to be when I first funded the school. And of course with my retirement I hope to spend much more time in Flores.”“

“That was when? 2001? Shortly after Petrobuy was given the exclusive rights to the Xan oil field here in Petén?”

“Yes. You are well informed. My company was fortunate enough to win that tender. And I have been fortunate enough to be able to return some of the profit by building schools such as this one.”

“But why a school for girls?”

The tone of her questions was starting to annoy him.

“My mother was a teacher and was killed in her village north of here.” He stopped walking and gave her a cold stare. “As I said. I do this in her memory.”

She returned the stare. “How noble, and how fortunate for these young women. How many students do you have now?”

Alvarez was surprised at her apparent but subtle hostility. Why would someone from the UN not like what he was doing? He was also sure that she knew the number of students and where each of them came from. He recited the answer.

“The school currently has two hundred and twelve teenage girls between the ages of thirteen and seventeen. Two hundred of the girls are Guatemalan. Some are orphans sent to us from city streets by well meaning and overworked police or government workers. Families sent some who they couldn’t handle. Young girls who were into drugs, prostitution or just uncontrollable have been sent to us, often as a last resort. It was for these unfortunate Guatemalan young girls that I originally established the school. The other dozen are made up of various nationals from around the world. At the current time we have students from Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Argentina, Mexico, Egypt, Syria, Sudan and girls from several African countries, young girls that have no family or family that don’t want them or care what happens to them. War torn Syria orphans. A Sudanese father wanted to get rid of a child that spent too much time with a Christian boy. Kenyan refugee camps offer little future to young girls other than assault and death. And so on.”

“Interesting. There must be thousands of such girls around the world. How do you choose the few that you will ‘save’?”

“As I said, it is my son’s side of the school operation, not mine. But I understand that he has used contacts in Petrobuy’s offices and partners around the world to help identify young girls that are young enough —usually under thirteen I think—to recover from a turbulent childhood, and someone in the local social services thinks the child has some intellectual promise. Headmaster Garcia tells me that all of the international girls are good students and show great promise.”

“It is true, “Garcia interjected. “Most of them have been here for less than a year, but are already showing great promise as students.”

“Where is your son now?”

Elesio looked at his watch. “Right about now I would guess that he is at a meeting in the South Korean offices of Petrobuy.”

“We saw the student dorm on the way in on the road leading to the school. Do the international girls stay there as well?”

Garcia pointed to the pink hued villa a hundred metres away, a visible contrast to the backdrop of jungle greenery. “No. Sergio built special rooms for them in his Villa. They stay there for the first month or so as they acclimatize to life her at the school.”

“I see…”

She was interrupted, as a lanky woman with long blond hair tied in a ponytail, led a group of twelve girls into the courtyard.

Alvarez switched back to English.

“Minister. Isabel. May I introduce Mary Ann Doughty from Canada? She is one of three teachers that are sponsored by various church groups. Mary Ann is a Mennonite. She has been teaching English and Geography since she came here as a university student ten years ago.”

Bethune and the Minister each walked forward and introduced themselves to both Doughty and the chosen girls. They asked individual girls their histories and learned of poverty and abuse in lives before they were sent to the school. The Guatemalan girls testified to the transformational experience of the school. A fourteen-year old girl from Syria cried as she spoke in halting Spanish of how appreciative she was of her new life at the school. A petite Thai child only smiled as she shook the Minister’s hand. Doughty took them all on a tour of the small school, showing them the other rooms that led off the courtyard: a modern science room, language learning lab, and the small, newly constructed gymnasium that was accessed by a new door made in the courtyard wall.

Bethune noticed the office attached to the wall of the new gym. It had two doors. One led into the gym and another led outside behind the school. Several chairs faced a large one-way mirror that gave the office occupants a view of the whole gymnasium.

“What is that for?” she asked Doughty.

“This is where we observe the girls at play. Many of these girls come from troubled circumstances. Many have opposing religions for example. We need to observe their behavior when they think we are not looking in order to get a sense of their adjustment.”

“That makes sense,” the minister offered.

“What about the outside door?” Bethune persisted.

“Every once in a while Senor Alvarez —Sergio that is—brings in specialized help to observe a particularly difficult case and they come through that door so none of the other girls see them.”

The electronic clicks from the digital cameras of three photographers broke a moment’s silence.

“I see. Very generous of Senor Alvarez,” she smiled. “ Tell me Senor. Will you build a school like this next to your new golf course in Belize?”

Alvarez stopped and raised his bushy eyebrows. He was indeed planning to build a golf course inside the Belize border from Guatemala. That was one reason the access to Belize from Flores was useful to him. With a cruise ship docking port planned close to the border, he thought it was a good business proposition. But most of all it was to satiate his passion for the game. He had learned to play golf while at college in Houston and discovered that it wasn’t only a game he could be good at, but also one that didn’t require him to be part of team. There were half a dozen courses in Guatemala, legacies of American interests and influence after the fifty-four revolution. But there was only one nine hole course located in Belize, near Belmopan, the capital of Belize, so building a course in the southwest corner, near the ocean and the Guatemala border not only suit his business purposes, but his passion for the game. He had only received Belize Government approval two days ago. Finding a course designer was next.

“You are very well informed Senorita. Indeed. As part of my agreement with the Belizean government I will be building a new school similar to this one for the golf course employees and their children. I believe that the school concept already has the support of UNESCO?”

“That is wonderful,” the Chief Minister added.

“Yes. That is what ‘Nations’ in the title means. We work with all governments,” Bethune returned the smile. “I am sure that Senor Alvarez is a busy man. Let’s move to the fountain in the centre of the courtyard where the photographers can get good photos and do the presentation. And afterward maybe we can get some photos of the villa where the international girls stay when they arrive? “

Alvarez wondered why the Villa was more interesting than the new state of the art science laboratory. “Of course. If you wish.” He straightened his tie and brushed the front of his form fitted linen suit as he walked to the courtyard to receive a humanitarian award that he had never heard of.

 

SIX

 

March 10, 2016

The prairie winds are blowing…

 

 

A late winter storm in Bumstead, Saskatchewan, can be brutal.

She had only been back at the Folly a couple of weeks and was already wondering if quitting the TOUR Champions had been the right thing to do. The wind rattled the windows in the old, though modernized, farmhouse and the solid wall of blowing snow gave her a feeling of vertigo as she tried to see the first tee box from the picture window in the living room. Her neighbor Randy Erikson looked after the property while she and Burt had been away on tour the past four winters and he had left a good supply of wood by the wood-burning stove in the kitchen. She stoked the fire with a poplar log and placed a cast iron kettle of water on one of the burners. Burt would have poured them each a large glass of 23-year-old Botran to stave off the chill. She decided she would try an Earl Grey tea first.

Before Burt died, they had been thinking of what to do during the Saskatchewan winter after she retired. They both agreed that it might be risky to try Mexico. It was doubtful that anyone would recognize them from their time in San Jose del Cabo, but since some member of the various cartels had not been thrilled at the results of their last residency there, it might be best to stay away for a while. But no other travelling or touristy prospect seemed to enthuse them. The cruise literature started to pour in, the result of an innocuous form that Melanie filled out one day at the Riverside Mall in Saskatoon—glossy brochures showing slightly greying, but buff couples, sipping cocktails on a deck overlooking an ocean somewhere with the sun setting behind them. Those just made them laugh at first and drink more later. They both gagged at the thought of being locked on a ship with three thousand other fun seekers. They had seen what happened when these floating hotels—adult summer camps Burt called them — pulled into port in Cabo. Melanie said it reminded her of the ants that would swarm a discarded apple core or smashed pumpkin in the barnyard.

They had no interest in being ants.

Now she was retired alone on her father’s country golf course with the prospect of taking care of a steady stream of duffers and dreamers who think that they can best the Folly.

Melanie riffled through the papers spread over the kitchen table. Dougal had not been the most articulate of bookkeepers and it had taken her most of the year after his death to figure out how he had managed to keep the Folly and the farm afloat during two national recessions. She quickly learned that he had not, and their absence for most of the time over the past four years had not helped. The farm and the Folly were deep in hock to separate banks in Regina and Saskatoon. Over the past year she had used a good portion of the money she received from selling the land in San Jose to pay off the debts. Some tournament revenue had helped out, but golf fans would be surprised how expensive it was to be on tour—even the PGA TOUR Champions—for a year. There were hotels, travel, equipment, and fees to pay for. At least Sharon caddied for her during the first year and she wouldn’t take any money. But when Sharon went back to her research at Harvard, caddies had to be paid as well.

She wondered sometimes why Burt never seemed to care about the money. Then, before he died, he shared with her the information about his cache in Anguilla. He told her this would be her ‘retirement’ pot. The annual return on five million wisely invested would give her a reasonable lifestyle, even if she had to support the Folly. But she still worried —about money and everything else.

She took off her reading glasses and wondered if she was just getting too old for this work. Even if she didn’t look it, her age was stating to take a toll. At sixty she had not yet let gravity do too much damage. Regular workouts in the gym they had built in the basement and a good ‘farm’ diet helped her keep a slim figure on her five eleven frame. She always knew she wasn’t what North American fashion magazines would call beautiful, but a face framed by her mass of reddish Gaelic curls had always attracted all the male attention she needed. Sometimes too much. She hugged herself and shuddered for a moment.

“Why am I not ecstatically happy?” she muttered. “I still have my health. I own a wonderful little golf course. I have enough money to meet my modest needs.” She was even making some good friends amongst the farmers and others around Bumstead. She was okay with the curling, but had drawn the line at joining the duplicate bridge club. “Find me a good strip poker club and then I’ll play cards,” she had joked with one of the ladies in town when she had suggested the bridge club.

“Maybe its the weather?” she mused. When they had started returning to the Folly each fall she experienced all four Saskatchewan seasons for the first time in thirty-five years. “Maybe it was because I had never had children?” she often asked herself. The women her age around Bumstead were always talking about their grandchildren—that is, when they were not talking about their, or their neighbor’s, latest operation. “Funny,” she told Burt one November night after she returned from a session of women’s curling. “They rarely talk about their actual children, just the grandkids. Maybe I am missing the motherly, caring and nurturing thing?” She had noticed that the women her age who never had kids or whose kids were far away—Winnipeg maybe—all had a dog or two that they talked about in the same way the others talked about their grandchildren.

She was ‘motherly’ to all of the high school kids they hired over the summer. When she was home form the tour, they all came to her with their pubescent, hormone driven anxieties. She was now convinced that hormones actually dissolved brain cells. And there were several dogs on the farm as well as some cats. But none of them gave her any warm and fuzzy feeling. A few of her Dad’s sheep were still around, but they seemed too dumb for any serious human bonding. The only animal she related to was Gus. Dougal had a problem with coyotes raiding his sheep and his hen house and someone had told him to get a guard donkey. He picked up Gus from a neighbor who claimed Gus had saved the lives of countless hens. Her Dad never thought to ask why the man was selling Gus. It turned out Gus protected the chickens for sure— and the sheep, and the barn swallows, and the pigeons, and the mice and everything else that Gus figured now belonged to him. One of those things was Melanie. He never really attacked anyone. But his loud bray scared anything living within earshot or touching distance of all his possessions. Fortunately his possessiveness was easily swayed with a carrot and Melanie kept a bag of raw carrots at the first tee for kids to feed him. “Typical man,” she often told Burt. “Ruled by his stomach”

“That’s not the saying I heard,” Burt had always laughed.

Burt had saved her life, literally and figuratively. He brought her back to her real life and allowed her to trust a man again when she had vowed never to do so. She wondered if she ever really knew him. She often watched his nightmares where he cried and said a woman’s name. He had told her about the death of his ‘watcher’ —lover—in the basement of his Ottawa house. And he sometimes had imaginary fights in his sleep. She had to get out of the bed and away from him when he had his martial arts sleeps, as she called them. And she tried to put out of her mind his hidden trove of poisons she still had in the basement.

Then she remembered that she had killed as well. She didn’t have any remorse about killing that man on the practice tee at the San Jose golf course—it was he, or Burt. But she did wonder if she could do it again.

“All in all, I should be happy,” she announced to herself again.

 

SEVEN

 

March 10, 2016

Let justice prevail…

 

 

In a Calgary March it was sometime possible to ski and golf in the same week–sometimes the same day. A Chinook could roll in and fool the tulips into thinking the twenty Celsius temperature was the permanent start of spring. Then the next day westerly mountain winds would chase the inversion away and crush the flower’s springtime hopes with a load of wet snow. March could be shorts and bikes, or toques and skis. When Laura and her mother came out of the courthouse, the sky was clear prairie blue, and tank tops and skateboards patrolled Sixth Avenue.

“Is it over now Mom? Are we free of him forever?”

“He is your father Laura, so you’ll never be totally free of him. The judge has said he can have court supervised visits. And he will have to provide support until you are eighteen.”

“What about you? Do you have to see him?”

“Only as something relates to you. I’d be happy if all I ever did was cash his checks.”

“Remind me again why you wanted to marry him in the first place? “

“Old story. I was young. He was the dashing and mysterious young man in a foreign country. He was tall, dark and handsome. Just like you.”

Laura was only fifteen but she was already 5 inches taller than her mother. She had inherited her mother’s unusual hue of blue in her eyes, but the rest of her was from elsewhere. Her mother had told her that her own father—Laura’s maternal grandfather— was tall, so she might have inherited her height from him. But the black hair and dark Mayan features were clearly from her father’s gene pool.

“Are we going to go back to using your maiden name now?”

“Well your father and I never married—thank goodness— so I never legally changed to his last name. But your birth certificate is in his last name so unless you apply to change it you are stuck with Alvarez. But as is the Guatemalan custom, your middle name is my family name. You could just start calling yourself Laura Salmy and leave off the Alvarez?”

Laura liked that idea.

There wasn’t anything about the Alvarez name that made her feel proud. She had met her paternal grandfather once five years ago and had found him repulsive. It wasn’t just his appearance she told her mother, “There is something in the way he looks at me that creeps me out.” At the time her mother had told her to just be respectful and behave.

On the other hand, her mother’s parents had been a warm and welcoming constant in a confusing childhood. After her father left and her mother was trying to pull her life back together, Laura spent summer weeks with her grandparents in Ottawa. They were happy times. Her grandmother was into politics and would lecture Laura about concepts like social responsibility and justice. She often took Laura to meetings in homes where men with ponytails would question her about the injustices in Central America. She had no idea what they were talking about, since she had never been out of Canada. When everyone was told that her father was Guatemalan and he was the head of Petrobuy, there was always sympathetic silence. She recognized some of the terms they used—hegemony somehow stuck in her twelve-year old brain—perhaps because she had heard her mother and father using the same terms as they argued. But she liked the meetings and felt safe around these people. They were welcoming and affectionate in a safe and comforting way. Grandma spent a lot of time with one woman in particular and she and Grandma were always holding hands and hugging. Grandma now lives with this woman although Laura hasn’t seen her since her Grandpa died.

Most of all she liked the food. The meetings at people’s homes were always potluck. And the attendees took special pride in announcing organic this and gluten free that. But there was no apparent ban on sugar and the variety of sweets was enough to salve the boredom of endless ideology. She rationalized that a quickly growing twelve year old needed lots of sugar and once the discussions started no one paid much attention to her as she cruised the desert table. The uninhibited gorging was tempered after she threw up one evening on the front dash of Grandma’s Subaru.

Her Grandpa was different.

He didn’t care at all for politics. Grandma was constantly berating him for his apparent lack of social conscience. Laura had confided in him one day about how good the deserts were, but to no avail. He had no interest in his wife’s causes or friends.

He worked at a local university and often took Laura to his office where she met people from all over the world. There was even a student from Guatemala who knew her paternal grandfather. “He is a wonderful philanthropist,” the girl had told her. “He does so many good things for the Guatemalan economy and its most needy citizens. It is one of the many scholarships his company provides that allowed me to be here studying in Canada. I am very grateful. You must be very proud to be his granddaughter.”

She wasn’t sure what a “philanthropist” was but it must be a good thing so she nodded her head and mumbled, “Oh, yes.”

But it wasn’t his work that she remembered the most. It was his hobbies. While Grandma’s hobbies were all related to politics and boring to a twelve year old—food being the exception—his were all about playing. He had three hobbies—music, golf and martial arts— and he tried to teach her them all. Only the martial arts one stuck.

It turned out that she didn’t have his ear for music. He had some talent that allowed him to recognize and name every note that she played for him on the electronic keyboard in his basement. They sometimes made a game of it. She would play a note and see if she could fool him. But he always got it right. When he tried it on her it was apparent that she couldn’t even distinguish between individual notes. And when he tried her at singing, they both laughed at her inability to hold a tune. So they shared the music hobby just by listening to music and she learned that her “tin ear,” as Grandpa called it, didn’t interfere with her listening pleasure. They spent hours together going through his collection of blues music. They agreed that McClintock’s version of “Better off with the blues” would be their favorite song. Children like secrets and they spit on their palms, shook hands and agreed that this song would be their secret code.

Golf was a non-starter. Even at twelve when he first took her to the range it was obvious that this sport wouldn’t be for her. It wasn’t her ability or her physical attributes. He watched with fascination as she hit every ball that he put in front of her. It just wasn’t in her personality to stand still for the time it would take to play the game of golf.

“Boring, Grandpa. Boring,” she finally announced as she handed him back the shortened club he had made for her.

Martial arts were a different matter. He had a large mat in his basement where she would watch as he practiced waving and chopping his hands and feet at something invisible in front of him. At first he didn’t ask her to try it or to join in. Whenever she would ask if she could try it he would reply that, “…this is for adults, not children…”

Two events changed his mind.

The first was an impromptu soccer game in the park. It was too warm for hockey—his game. So he thought he would try his granddaughter at soccer. It was second best to golf, but he thought maybe more suited to her temperament. He set up a goal with a couple of water bottles and challenged her to score on him.

“Boring Grandpa. Boring,” she complained as she attempted to kick the ball at him.

“Okay. You try in goal and I’ll try to score on you,” he offered with a little exasperation. “An ice cream for every stop you make.”

He never scored.

It didn’t matter how hard he kicked the ball or from what angle she stopped everything. And she was having fun. When she asked him to kick the ball harder, “…its not going fast enough Grandpa…” he suddenly realized what she had. He should have thought of it earlier. Male genes were supposed to be stronger and characteristics often skipped a generation. He had often wondered which of his grandparents —or earlier—had such enhanced spatial relationship abilities.

“Laura, do you play any sports with the other children at school?”

“Nah. Too easy. Boring.”

“What do you mean too easy?”

“Everything moves too slowly. And the other kids don’t like it when I win all the time.”

“Like my soccer kicks?”

“Yes. Sorry Grandpa. Will you still play with me?”

“I think that you and I will be playing a lot,” he suggested, as he gave her a big hug. “Let’s try another game Laura.”

He took her hand and held it in front of her. Palm down. Then he placed is hand under hers palm up.

“Okay. Here’s the game. I am going to try and bring my hand up and hit the top of your hand. You try and take your hand back before I do. I’ll give you an ice cream for every time I miss. And I’ll take one away for every time you pull your hand back without me moving my hand.”

He did the movement in slow motion to show her what he meant.

“Remember. You can’t pull your hand back unless I am going to try and hit you.”

He never did.

“You are going to owe me a whole store of ice cream Grandpa.”

“Hmmm. Think you’re good, do you? Let’s reverse it. Your turn to try and hit me.”

As he suspected, this time she wasn’t as successful. A researcher at Harvard had verified what he had always known; spatial relationship skills show up mostly as defensive moves rather than aggressive ones. For example, it showed up far more when she was in goal rather than trying to score since the only advantage the skill provided was a better sense of where the goalie might move. That was Gretzky’s “…skate to where the puck was going to be…” example. But it didn’t provide any extraordinary physical attribute to kick the ball. Gretzky still had to have extraordinary shooting ability to take advantage of his special spatial sense. She started to become more successful at the palm slapping as she learned to use her skill to watch his hand moves and anticipate when she should strike. That Harvard researcher was studying spatial relationship in top athletes from all sports. She hypothesized that maybe ten percent of the population had such extraordinary skill, but only a small percentage of that group ever used, or recognized, the attribute, usually in some athletic endeavor.

That was when Laura remembered the martial arts lessons started. She also remembered her Grandma being strongly opposed to any sort of violence and objecting to the lessons, but even she relented when she saw how Laura enjoyed it. Every summer from the age of ten until just last summer when she turned fifteen, she and her Grandpa sparred and played. He still had to go to work. He and Grandma took their summer holidays, but she spent hers working for some political party. He always had to go to a conference somewhere for one of his holiday weeks, but he spent the other three mostly with her.

They talked a lot. Or rather she talked a lot. Without a father, and a mother distracted by the effort of putting her own life together, she had no one in Calgary to confide in. So she talked to both of her grandparents about school and about her friends and the things she liked and didn’t like. Both were patient listeners, but over time she just became closer to her Grandfather. She just spent more time with him. And they spent most of that time on the martial arts mat.

He showed her two kinds of martial arts. One was from a place called Korea. She knew that name because two of the children in her grade five class in Calgary had been from there. They showed the class stuff from their country. But they didn’t show what her Grandpa was teaching her. The other was Chinese. She thought that there were lots of Chinese students in her school, but she wasn’t sure. Maybe they were Korean or something else. She had trouble telling the difference. She liked the Korean one better so she focused on that one. She thought that the Chinese one was funny. They would watch old movies together of some skinny Chinese guy jumping all over the place yelling “ah eee” and beating up twenty guys at the same time. She didn’t think she could be that funny so she chose the Korean one.

She especially liked the times when they got to practice with the sticks. They were not really called sticks in Korea, that’s just what she called them at the start. At first she was clumsy and Grandpa kept whacking her on the shins and arms. By the third summer he was the one with bruised arms, even though she tried to go easy on him.

But now he was gone.

She often lay in bed and cried while she wondered if he was asleep when it started? She wanted to believe that he never woke up and never felt the heat of the fire.

He had always joked that she was his best friend. As she and her mother walked down the courthouse steps to the parking lot, she wondered if anyone would ever want to be her best friend again.

EIGHT

 

March 11, 2016

Customer satisfaction is word one…

 

 

Eliseo Garcia Alvarez was having a bad Sunday.

It wasn’t supposed to happen that way. He went to mass every Wednesday night, and he had noticed that Thursdays were usually pretty good. And this morning he had done both mass and confession. There were things that he couldn’t confess, of course. “Priests—at least most of them—,” he chuckled to himself, “would not understand.”

The thorn in Eliseo’s Sunday wasn’t a new one. His only child—only legitimate one at any rate—had been giving him grief since the moment he was born.

The boy’s mother was a six foot two Russian volleyball player he met at College. On their first date she told him she thought his long arms were cute. Delighted that he had found one girl that didn’t think he looked like a monkey, he brought her back to Guatemala and married her. The marriage initially served both their purposes very well. Perversely, at the start of the marriage, being around her made him feel tall. And being married got her a citizenship other than Russian; 1980 wasn’t a good time to be in Russia. Neither wanted the child. The birth simply delayed her ‘escape to America’ plan. By the end of the first year he realized that people laughed at the sight of the oddly figured Indian and the statuesque blonde walking arm in arm down the street. The top of her arm was more in level with the top of his head, not his shoulder. She left as soon as she could after the baby was born, and he was stuck with a lifetime of trouble.

Sergio Alvarez—Eliseo refused to use the Guatemalan practice of using the mother’s maiden name as a middle name—turned out tall and blonde with only a hint of his Mayan ancestry giving a permanent tan. At thirty-six he had still not done anything useful in his life that wasn’t either initiated or sponsored by his father. Eliseo’s money got him through private school in Guatemala with high enough grades to get into a decent college in Texas. But even a healthy donation to the college’s foundation couldn’t offset the fact that Sergio was simply not very bright, and he was soon a college dropout.

Then Eliseo tried him at the Petrobuy head offices in Houston. Fifteen years ago, Petrobuy was still one of a dozens of fledgling Texas oil companies. It wasn’t until he got the monopoly on Guatemalan oil that the company really took off. Despite occupying a relatively junior position, Sergio almost destroyed the startup. He initiated several disastrous lease purchases. “Hernandez told me about this lease that was sure to blow,” he whined to Elesio after one went bust. Eliseo could overturn or compensate for most of those actions. But he couldn’t influence the Houston police. Sergio was arrested three times for speeding— arrested the last time because the Mercedes was going fifty miles per hour over the speed limit. He was caught twice on a DUI. And once he was caught in a FBI sweep of Internet surfers of child pornography. He got off on the last one since the computer IP they traced was located in the company’s office and the FBI couldn’t prove that it was him who used it.

But Elesio knew it was, and blasphemed the God that gave Sergio all of both Elesio’s and the boy’s mother’s wrong genes.

And for the past thirty years the boy—the man—had ruined many of Elesio’s Sundays.

“I couldn’t get custody Dad,” Sergio announced over the cell connection.

“Where are you now?”

“I’m still in Calgary. But I’m heading to Korea tomorrow. No sense in staying around here any longer.”

“What did the judge say?” Sergio was frustrated that Canadian judges couldn’t be influenced. Even in the U.S., elected judges have some concern about the next election. But Canadian judges are appointed and, as he abruptly fund out, quite sanctimonious about influence peddling.

“She said that Canadian citizenship is more important than Guatemalan and that a child should always stay with their mother.”

“Even a poverty stricken drunk that lives in a basement somewhere?”

“She told the judge that she is been clean for six years and attends AA regularly. And she is going back to university to get an Education degree.”

“Hmmm. Sure she is. What about the child.”

“Don’t know. Judge interviewed her in private. When they came back to the courtroom the judge immediately gave full custody to Lorraine. And he signed a court order that I was only to see the child under court supervision of some kind. I’m not exactly sure what that means except I am not allowed to see the kid alone.”

“What’s the big deal anyhow? You haven’t even seen the kid for three years. And you saw her only periodically for the six years before that. You should just forget the whole thing. Come back to Guatemala. Do your job and make babies with more cooperative women.”

When Sergio met Lorraine and told Elesio they were getting married and moving to Canada, he was relieved. Now someone else can deal with this boy, he celebrated. And in another country even.

She had been part of a team from Canada building homes in a poorer neighborhood of Flores and Sergio had been a local volunteer, on a summer break from his failing at college. Elesio had told him such volunteering was good for community relations. Before the two week build was over Sergio announced that he was going to Canada to live with Lorraine. He would try school again and get a job with one of the many oil companies in the Alberta. Lorraine was going to finish her degree in international development and then they would come back to Guatemala to help the less fortunate.

The resulting disaster was no surprise to Elesio.

They never got married. The Canadian government claimed it was simply a marriage of convenience in order to give Sergio Canadian citizenship. Elesio got him a series of three jobs with oil companies in Calgary, each lasting less than four months before the owner called Elesio in desperation begging him to send his son somewhere else. They both continued to party and he continued to speed. One more DUI and the government threatened deportation.

But the worst was Lorraine’s pregnancy. Elesio figured that the child must have been conceived in Guatemala because it was born in Sergio’s first year in Canada. And the baby did change both parents—for a while. Sergio actually lasted the next three years at one small oil company, the owner putting him in roles where he couldn’t do too much damage. Lorraine started her degree part time. Both slowed the partying. And together they started to raise Laura Salmy Alvarez.

Now they were fighting over the child. Sergio had lost and neither he nor Elesio would likely see the child again.

“Look Sergio. Just forget about the child. She ‘s nothing to us. Come home and get back to your work at St Peter’s.”

Sergio rarely did what his father asked.

 

NINE

 

Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016

Shock treatment…

 

 

Adrian was the first to see the van.

He had not seen Laura since the week after she had gone to court with her mother.

“He wanted custody,” she had told him last week. “And he wanted me move to Guatemala to live with him and his family.”

“Any chance of that?”

“Not now. The judge ruled against him. But mom’s lawyer says that he will appeal and keep trying to make Mom out to be an unfit mother. His family is rich, and he has a whole pile of endorsements from rich people in the Calgary oil business.”

“Would you want to go there?”

She gave him a disdainful look, let go of his hand, reached down to pick up a small stone from the paved walking pathway and threw it into the Bow.

“I told the judge what I remembered.”

Now he too wondered what had happened, and if she actually did tell the judge what she remembered of her childhood with her father. Maybe she could use someone to talk to, he decided before he texted her. He picked his way through the winter’s residual of slush and sand on the side street leading to the Garrison children’s park. The park was empty. It was Easter Sunday and the area families were busy preparing their Easter dinners and calming down sugar-boosted children. He was going to his Grandmother’s later in the day. Laura said her mother was still at the university library. He checked his watch and decided she was five minutes away.

If he were totally honest he would have admitted that maybe he needed her more than she needed him. They had spent a lot of time with each other in the month since hockey finished for the season and the confrontation in the base. At first they were wary of each other. As a First Nations student in the school he wasn’t used to attention—at least the positive kind— from either teachers or other students. So he was naturally wary of why a tall, beautiful young girl would want to spend any time with him. Being sixteen didn’t help. Up to this point in his life, hockey and hunting had been all he needed— although he liked school. In fact school was easy. He remembered things easily and knew he could have had any grade he wanted in any subject. He just didn’t see any purpose in doing better than simply passing. Anything more would attract attention, and many beatings taught him that young Indigenous boys in a white school should not try and attract attention.

He got even on the ice. He was big. Well over six feet and muscular. He worked hard at the weights. By fifteen he was being scouted by the NHL. No one cared about his heritage on the ice, although the occasional fan yelled some sort of racial epithet. He was the toughest, smartest and most athletic defenseman in the Calgary system. Yet he was becoming gradually aware that he was defenseless against Laura.

Over the past two weeks they had done nothing but talk and hold hands as they walked. They had not even kissed. She talked more than him, which he figured was a good sign. He had learned that her father and mother were not married and her father left five years ago. Her mother was going back to school to get her Education degree and her grandfather was a rich businessman in Guatemala and Houston.

He had told her about growing up on a reserve in Saskatchewan where it was no big deal to have unmarried parents. Both his parents had been killed in a car accident driving to Regina in a winter blizzard and he had come to Calgary to live with his Grandmother who was a First Nations elder and worked with the national First Nations organization that had their head office in Calgary. She was a Ph.D. type doctor and university professor and she travelled all over the world meeting aboriginal groups elsewhere. He told Laura he thought she had spent some time in Central America protesting about something to do with fruit.

She had told him about her grandparents. The one in Guatemala creeped her out, although she admitted she really didn’t know him so it was more from his appearance than anything else. But she had spent many summers with her grandparents in Ottawa. Her Grandma was still alive, but her Grandpa was killed in a house fire. She told him it was he who taught her the martial arts moves that he saw that night after the hockey game.

He told her about how he cheated at school —to look dumber, not smarter.

She laughed and told him it wasn’t hard for her to look dumb at school.

And one evening as they walked along the Elbow river pathway, she told him her memories about her dad coming into her room at night to tell her stories and lay on the bed with her. She told him that it was the custody court case that was bringing these memories back. She had not thought much about them in the nine years that he had been gone.

That was the second time that they hugged. The first was that night in the base when she was attacked. That time she cried. This time they just held onto each other in silence. They were still wearing their winter coats and the mountain breeze was cold, but he had never felt so warm. Despite her size and evident ability to defend herself, he felt her vulnerability through the down jacket and he vowed that he would always protect her. No one would ever hurt her again when he was around.

He was hopelessly in love. That night he thought she might need a shoulder to lean on. He just needed to see her.

He sent her a text from the little playground park in Garrison where they met after school and some weekends. They usually waited until after six o’clock since most of the little kids would have gone home with their Philippine caretakers, and they would have the kiddie swings and monkey bars to themselves. When there were too many kids they moved over to the square and the monument to Canadian WWI and II battles. But at both places neither of them could simply sit still and talk. They had to be swinging, jumping, hanging or sliding down the baby slide while they incrementally shared bits of their lives. Their constant movement masked the shyness that both felt about being alone together.

It usually took her about twenty minutes to walk over from her apartment on the edge of Killarney. Without any conversation they had both gravitated to the park away from her neighborhood. There was anonymity for both of them; she from a mother who had not yet realized that Laura had an interest in boys, and he was not yet sure he knew what to do with an interest in a girl. He had shared his feelings for Laura with his own Grandma. She had smiled, reached up to give him a hug and told him how wonderful it could be to get to know another human being.

He always got to the park before her so he could watch her approach down the long tree lined road that centred a collection of brick faced, three story, townhomes. Like all streets in this neighborhood, the road was named after some famous Canadian military event. He knew this one was called “Somme Blvd.” His Grandma had told him how his great great grandfather was a hero in the First World War and had died at the battle of the Somme. Adrian watched now as he saw Laura reach the far end of the boulevard, about four hundred metres away. He usually recognized her because she never ran, just skipped and bounced. Sometimes it looked funny for an almost six foot tall girl pretending to play hopscotch in imaginary squares, or to never “…step on a crack or break my Momma’s back…” as she would tell him. But it was one of things about her that made him smile.

He smiled as he watched her bounce down the road.

The black van turned the corner onto the boulevard shortly after she did. It moved slowly, barely keeping pace with her. At first Adrian thought that the driver was simply being cautious of an erratic moving pedestrian, but when the driver passed up several opportunities to easily pass her he began to have different thoughts. It was a large cube type van with no windows except in the front. He noticed that it had front license plates. He was too far away to read them, but Alberta cars had no plates on the front. It was also a custom vehicle. Cube vans had vertical sliding doors on the back. He knew this from helping out his Uncle Albert with a moving business once in a while. This van had sliding doors on the side—on the side facing the sidewalk.

Adrian’s hunter instinct was kicking in. Hunting with his uncle in the summer, he had always been the one to know exactly where the moose were hiding or where the partridge would fly. As the van began to pull even with the unaware Laura, he knew there was something wrong. She and the van were now about a hundred metres away. He figured that the van’s occupants were waiting until they were sure there was no other car on this short stretch of road. He jumped off the swing and started to run.

“Laura,” he yelled as loud as he could. “Look out!”

She first turned to his voice, and then to the van as the sliding door opened and three men in black ski masks jumped out. One carried what looked like a burlap sack. Another had some sort of gun in his hand and the third some rope. The man with the rope reached her first and tried to grab her arm. He was rewarded with a fist to his throat and a foot to his knee. As he went down the second man with the sack reached and tried to put it over her head. Adrian watched as Laura took his arm and twisted it until he fell down as well.

By this time the third man had the gun pointed at Laura’s chest. Adrian smashed into him with a flying check as he pulled the trigger. The hit turned the gun towards Adrian. As the two of them crashed to the pavement, his last thought was that he had never seen wires on a gun before.

 

TEN

 

March 27th, 2016

A pain in the neck…

 

 

“Good morning little guy. Decided to wake up did you?”

“I am not a little guy,” Adrian retorted as he blinked his brain awake. She always called him her “little guy” even though at sixteen he was already over six feet tall.

“You’ll always be my little guy,” she laughed as she leaned over his hospital bed and kissed his forehead. Adrian smiled as her long grey hair brushed his cheeks. “How are you feeling?”

“A little groggy. What happened?”

“The police say you were hit with a Taser. The doctor says you will be left with a mean headache but other than that you should be fine.”

“Who brought me to the hospital? How long have I been here? Can I leave? Granny, we’ve got to find her.”

“Hold on. The police want to chat with you first. And the doctor wants to check you over. A neighbour witnessed it all. Actually got most of what happened on their iPhone. It is all over the news. You can watch it in a few moments on the six o’clock news. But the police want your story before you see the news and the video.”

They both looked up as a young dark skinned woman in a white lab coat with a stethoscope draped around her neck came into the room.

“Ahh. Awake are you?” She flipped the scope off her neck. “You’ve been out for a while. Let’s have a listen.”

“What do you mean —a while?”

She glanced at the hospital wall clock.

“They ambulance brought you into emerge at four thirteen. The iPhone videos indicate that you were zapped at three twenty seven. It is now five fourteen so you have been out for…” she paused and glanced at the ceiling. “…one hundred and seven minutes. Over an hour and a half. That is unusually long for a Tasoring. The user probably wasn’t trained and had too big a charge set. But everyone reacts differently. Some even die.”

“Comforting,” Granny offered. “Is he okay?”

The doctor opened the front of Adrian’s hospital gown.

“Hmmm. Nice burn marks. Those will hurt for a while.”

She moved the scope over his chest and neck. She stood back.

“All seems well Adrian. But your body has had a heck of a shock. Oops. Didn’t mean to pun.”

All three laughed too loudly and too long. But it broke the tension.

“But you are fine. You are a young man in very good shape. You must be an athlete? Hockey? I don’t understand that game yet. Now cricket. That’s a real game.”

There was more laughter all around.

“Yes if you like tea and crumpets it is a wonderful workout for your right elbow,” Granny offered.

“My first Grandpa was from St. Lucia,” Adrian explained to the doctor.

The doctor looked at the chart.

“It says here your are First Nations?”

“I had Adrian’s mother while I still lived on a reserve in Saskatchewan. Before I tried marriage the white man’s—oops— black man’s—way.”

The doctor wasn’t sure if she was supposed to laugh at that, but she joined in when Adrian and Granny laughed.

“Okay. Just don’t go sticking your finger in any light sockets for the next day or two? You are good to go from the medical side. You just have to stay here for another hour for what we call ‘observation’. But there are a couple of identical Tip Top Tailor suits outside that want to chat with you before you go. You up to that?”

“Sure. Thanks doc.”

“No problem. You are a good break from the line up of flu sufferers in emergency. Stay well young man,” she offered as she jotted some notes on an iPad and left the room.

Almost immediately two men entered the room. Both had small notebooks and a pen in their hands. Adrian had not met many local city police other than the uniforms that patrolled the neighborhood and sometimes provided security at the arena. He supposed that these were detectives. He almost laughed when he saw them. They looked like they were directly from the Wambaugh novel he was reading. The suits were rumpled. Both wore ties over shirts open at the neck. The ties had identical stains about halfway down. MacDonald’s drippings Adrian guessed. One was short and bald. The other was Adrian’s height and heavily built. Both men would clearly be more comfortable in sweats —or a uniform — than a suit.

It was the identical, department issue, flip over notebooks and Bick pens that actually made him giggle. He figured these would more likely be detective story movie props than real life policing tools in 2016.

“Something funny kid?” The short one spoke first.

“No sir.” Adrian knew how to be solicitous around police.

“I am Sergeant Brooks and this is Detective Marsden. We like to ask you a few questions if you don’t mind.”

Neither offered their hands.

“Good afternoon officers.” Granny stood up from the chair beside the bed and offered her hand. “I am Doctor Laverne Kasikiskit. I am Adrian’s maternal grandmother and his legal guardian. How can we be of assistance?”

This time Adrian couldn’t stifle the laugh. Kasikiskit was indeed her “Indian” family name —his was Two birds—, although both their birth certificates as well as all official identities like driver’s licenses and health cards say “Campbell.” It seems that Granny’s Cree father drank way too much tea and his friends gave him the name Kasikiskit—“he who pees too much”—and it has stuck with the family ever since. While Granny used the name in gatherings such as pow wows and in other meetings with first nation friends—and sometimes for one of her publications —she never uses it in the general public unless she is a little pissed off. Something about these officers has pissed her off.

“Something else funny kid?” the tall one grimaced at Adrian.

“No sir. Sorry sir.”

The tall one took Granny outstretched hand.

“My pleasure Doctor…Kaskiritshit?”

This time Adrian totally lost it and Brooks joined in.

“Sorry Ma’am,” Marsden smiled sheepishly. “I am not sure I got that last name totally correct.”

They all broke up and the formality of the moment was gone.

“Are you okay Kid?” Brooks offered. “That was one hell of a jolt you took. Want to tell us what happened?”

“Name is Adrian sir. Not much to tell really. Laura— the girl abducted— is a friend of mine and we were going to meet at the park. She was fifty metres away when I noticed the van moving slowly behind her. I knew something was wrong and started to run towards her to warn her.”

“How did you know something was wrong,” Marsden asked as he wrote furiously in the notebook.

“There was a license plate on the front of the van, so not an Alberta car. And even the front window was smoked. That’s illegal I think? And it was clearly following her.”

Both detectives looked at each other and shrugged.

“Smart of you Adrian. What next?”

“I was twenty metres from the van when it stopped and three men jumped out and tried to grab Laura.”

“Tried?” Brooks asked without looking up from his notes. “Three big men and one little girl?”

“You have to understand. She isn’t little. Almost 180 tall.”

Brooks looked up from his notes with a confused look.

“Almost five eleven,” Adrian corrected remembering that the police probably had not gone metric yet even though the country went there over forty years ago “Secondly she knows some weird martial arts thing. But most of all she is more athletic than the rest of us. Has these weirdly fast reflexes. She was handling two of these thugs easily.”

The two men looked at each other again and both scribbled in their notebooks.

“How did you get zapped ?”

“She had put two on the ground and the third was about to shoot her from behind when I body checked him. I heard the van door open and then I was zapped. That’s the last thing I remember.”

“Can you describe the thugs?”

Adrian closed his eyes and paused. “All heavy set—like big bellies. The three that I saw wore blue jeans. They were Kirkland brand like the ones that old people wear in Calgary. The two on the ground wore running shoes. Fake Converse I think.”

“Fake?” Brooks looked up from his scribbling. “How do you know?”

“The Converse label was in the wrong place.”

The men looked at each other. “Right. Anything else?”

Adrian closed his eyes again. “One was bald. The other wore a baseball hat with Petrobuy Oil on the front. It fell off when Laura whacked him to the ground. The one I hit had black hair and a ponytail. They wore ski masks, but I could see their necks. All three were dark skinned. Almost like a Canadian First Nations skin hue.”

“Good. Anything else.”

“I heard them yell at each other. It wasn’t English. Spanish.”

“Spanish?”

“Yeah. We took some Spanish in school so I am sure that was what it was. The one I tackled had a tattoo on his neck. The others might have as well, but I just saw the guy I hit.”

Brooks looked up from his notes. “Tattoo? What kind of tattoo?”

“I didn’t recognize it. It was all black and looked like a sort of stick man in a suit and a funny looking hat.”

“Can you draw it?” Brooks gave him the Bic and pad.

“Sure.” Adrian drew what he saw and handed the notebook back to Marsden.

Marsden showed it to Brooks, but neither showed any recognition.

“That it?” Marsden asked.

“The license plate for the truck.”

“What about it?”

Adrian closed his eyes. “It was a B.C. plate. BDP4729.”

“Wait a minute,” Brooks interjected. “You actually remember the license plate number? In all of perhaps twenty seconds of action you looked and registered the license number? And the tattoo? And the facial features?”

“Not exactly remembered. I kinda take pictures with my brain and look at them later. When I close my eyes I can see the picture.”

His grandmother interrupted. “It is more complicated than that, but Adrian has what popular culture calls photographic memory, although there is really no such thing. In scientific terms he has eidetic memory, the ability to recall in great detail visual information, such as pages from books, magazines, and license plate numbers, after only brief exposure to it. It isn’t uncommon in young children, but usually goes away by the time children go to school. For some reason Adrian’s skill hasn’t gone away and has actually become stronger.”

“Okay. I see. Well thanks for the info kid. I guess you have a good memory. Not many folks would see so much detail.” Brooks offered him his hand. “But look, it is dangerous to try and intervene in this type of event. You were lucky you got away with just a Tasoring. Next time leave the rough stuff to us. Okay?”

Adrian shook his hand wondering how fast these two guys would be in the forty-metre dash—even to save someone.

“Okay. But you’ve got to find her officer.”

“We’re on it kid,” Marsden snapped.

“Nice to meet you as well…Doctor,” Brooks smiled as he offered her his hand. “Sorry about the name thing.”

“No problem,” Granny smiled. “Happens all the time. Good luck finding these guys.”

Both men closed their notebooks and put the Bic pens in their shirt front pockets and left the room. Adrian almost laughed again as he thought of Men in Black and wondered if the pens were secret memory erasing devices. Poof! One flash and he would forget all of this ever happened.

But he hasn’t forgotten what happened. And Laura has been kidnapped.

“ You know that they will not do anything Granny?”

“Why do you say that?” She reached over and took his hand.

“It is a domestic thing. It was her father I am sure. He is from Guatemala and she was always telling me how he was threatening to take her there to live. Her parents are separated you know. And her mother was awarded full custody and her father was angry. I’ll bet he kidnapped her.”

“Why didn’t you tell the police that?”

"Cause if I did they would snap those cute little notebooks closed and move on to the next 7- Eleven robbery or something. City cops don't deal with international domestic disputes."

“You like this girl don’t you Adrian?”

“A lot Granny. She is witty. Always makes me laugh with her stories about the other kids her age. And we do sports together. Run, street hockey, soccer. And she is showing me some of her martial arts stuff.”

“Sounds like quite a girl?”

“And she is beautiful.” He paused and looked at Campbell. “And she doesn’t care if I am not a white guy.”

Dr. Laverne Campbell was a status Cree from northern Saskatchewan. Her “Doctor” was a Ph.D. one. She was a tenured professor of Native Studies at Mount Royal University and on the national executive of the CFNF—the Canadian First Nations Forum. She was well aware, both personally and professionally, of the effect of mixed cultures on relationships. Adrian’s mother died when he was six, and she had chosen to raise him in the city and as culturally aware as possible. He had a lifetime to bear the burden of the Indigenous stigma. He wouldn’t learn how to deal with it— and thrive in it—living on a reserve in Northern Saskatchewan. Dealing with his first cross cultural love experience will make him stronger.

Campbell took both his hands in hers.

“Have you had sex yet?”

He pulled his hands back.

“Granny. She is fifteen,” he admonished. “We hold hands once in a while. And we haven’t even kissed. Well we pecked actually— once when I took her home to her mom’s basement apartment. But it isn’t like that Granny. She is my best friend. No. More than a best friend.”

Adrian started to get out of bed.

“I’ve got to find her.”

“Hold on.” She gently pushed him back onto the hospital bed and glanced at the wall clock. “You have to stay here for another half hour before they will release you. It is almost six. Let’s watch the news.”

Adrian reluctantly lay back on the bed and propped himself up to a sitting position while Campbell grabbed the remote and turned on the small television hanging in a corner.

It was an older model television with a curved screen and no HD. He figured modern TVs were not something that cash strapped hospitals were likely to spend money on. Up to date doctors were much better than up to date TVs.

The image gradually came to life as the TV warmed up.

It wasn’t quite six yet so they found themself watching the last few moments of some doctor in blue scrubs explaining to the crowd of mostly women how more Turmeric in their diet would do everything from lower their cholesterol to improving their sex lives. He used large plastic models of body parts to show what happened when this miracle drug entered their blood stream. There was a mixture of laughter and sighs of disappointment when he announced that the sex part required them to get their husbands to eat about a pound —it was a U.S. show— of the stuff a day.

“He probably owns a Turmeric farm in India,” Campbell laughed. “Maybe we should push the buzzer there and get the nurse to bring us some right now.”

Adrian laughed as well, forgetting for a moment his urgency to get looking for Laura.

“Quiet. Here comes the news.”

A mummified looking announcer —Robinson or something like that Adrian thought —was standing at a table that looked like the control panel for the Starship Enterprise.

Good evening. And welcome to the national news at six. Tonight we have coverage of the settlement reached reached in Gaza, the continuing story of the partitioning of Iraq and a report on that second flight that went missing in the South China Sea. But first, a domestic story— a mystery in Calgary where a fifteen year old girl has been forcibly—violently—kidnapped in broad daylight from a quiet Calgary residential area. Peter Northright is live on the site. Peter?”

“Yes Harold. This is a shocking story for Calgary, who only a year or so ago had to deal with the horrific story of the kidnapping and ultimate deaths of a young child and his grandparents. Behind me you can see the police tape cordoning off the area where Fifteen-year-old Laura Alvarez was abducted by a group of men in a van. We interviewed one eye witness who asked that we not use his name or be seen on camera.”

The video flickered as it shifted to the tape of the interview, showing only Peter the interviewer.

“It was organized crime for sure,” the voice asserted. “This was a planned and organized heist. It would have been a lot cleaner if the girl had not fought back and that other young man had not dove into the group. The Stampeders should find that kid. The kidnappers clearly didn’t expect such opposition. But once they had Tasored the young man the girl stopped fighting and they gave her a needle of something.”

“Did you see the men?”

“Not really. They wore ski masks and I was watching from my bedroom window and I could make out the action, but not the faces. But they were big guys I can tell you that. And one had a black haired ponytail.”

“Harold, the police tell me that the young boy,” He glanced at his notes. “…an Adrian Campbell…is doing fine and will be released from hospital shortly. And they have traced the van’s route and found it abandoned near Springbank airport. We have also learned that a Gulfstream jet took off an hour or so after the kidnapping, but there is no confirmation this has anything to do with the crime.”

“Is there any speculation from the police about the motive for this abduction?”

“The parents,” he glanced at his notes again. “Lorraine Salmy and Sergio Alvarez— have been going through a final custody hearing that wrapped up a couple of weeks ago. The father is Guatemalan and doesn’t live in Canada so he couldn’t be interviewed and we are trying to get an interview with the mother right now.”

“So this might be a domestic dispute?”

“Maybe. But even so, the police have emphasized in their comments so far that this doesn’t diminish the seriousness of the crime. In fact almost all such crimes are domestically related in some way. But I did ask the Chief what happens if the child has been abducted to another country like Guatemala.”

The video shifted to a screen of a tall, man with a brush cut, a bushy mustache and a uniform with a braided cord running under his armpit and over his right shoulder, and a string of medals across the pocket.

“That depends first upon whether the destination country is a signatory to the Hague Convention and secondly whether they enforce it. Unless both of these are in place there isn’t likely much we can do in these domestic issues.”

“So if the child has left the country then that is pretty much it from the police perspective?”

“Well from the city police perspective, yes. But as I said there might be some federal interest in the case if it was proven the child was kidnapped to a country signatory to the convention. But at that point it would be up to the family—mother in this case— to make the case to Ottawa. But we have not given up hope that we will find this little girl alive and well in Canada. All of the city’s police resources are at work on this case.”

“Thank you Chief Walden. Back to you Harold.”

“Thank you Peter. Now on to to international issues….

Campbell turned the TV off.

“She has been kidnapped by her father Granny. She’ll be in Guatemala by now. I’ve got to go find her.”

“You really love her don’t you?”

“Don’t know what that is. But my heart is bursting Granny.” Adrian gave her an intense stare. “She is my friend. She needs me. Can you help?”

Campbell paused and leaned over him and kissed his forehead. The long grey hair encircled his face like a curtain as she whispered in his ear. “Maybe. There are no national borders for true Indigenous peoples.”

 

ELEVEN

 

March 28, 2016

The formative years…

 

 

Alvarez tossed the document on his desk. “Have you read this?”

“Yes. I told you the visit went well,” Garcia offered. “The girls were convincingly enthusiastic about the school and what it means to them. Did you ever think that you would get a humanitarian award from the UN?”

Alvarez laughed. “Up until I built this this school I probably didn’t deserve it—most definitely didn’t deserve it.”

“Your parents would be pleased though?”

“My mother maybe. From what I heard about my Father, he preferred more aggressive routes to social change than education. But this is 2016, not the fifties.”

“Well you should be proud Elesio,” he offered.

“What did you make of the comments from the UN lady about the international girls? ‘The practice of bringing foreign nationals to this school in Guatemala should be closely monitored. The intention is good, but we should be confident that the result is acceptable.’ Is this a veiled threat or concern of some sort? Is the operation going well?”

“Seems like it to me Elesio. Your son has saved these girls from danger in their own country and brought them to good health and learning here. How can that be bad?”

“I guess you are right. How is the new girl?”

Garcia paused, not sure how to respond. “The new girl? You mean the one that arrived last night from Canada?”

Alvarez nodded.

“Still asleep the last time Mary Ann told me. Do you want me to find out?”

“Nah,” Alvarez offered. “She is Sergio’s concern, not mine. Mary Ann will take care of her. Go back to your work. I think I’ll just wander back to Flores and the house. I have some business things to do.”

The laneway from the school was a dirt track that emerged straight through the thick hedge that surrounded the school property until it curled sharply to the right, meeting the main road to Flores in 140 metres. Elesio knew the precise measurement since the school and the lane way had been built to his specifications. The student dormitory was built at the south corner at the junction of the main road and the lane. It was quiet at this time of day since all of the girls were at school, but by four in the afternoon the playing field behind the dorm would be buzzing with a myriad of different field games. Some girls would be in their dorms studying and others would be on kitchen duty helping to prepare the evening meal. In the evening there were movies and indoor games before lights out and bed by 9:30.

Once he reached the main road he had a three-kilometer walk past fields and farm animals to the edge of the town. After one kilometer he stopped by a wooden gate and waited while a donkey ambled from the far side of the field to the gate. It was apparent that the age of the animal was slowing his progress. His hair spread in uneven patches over his back. His knees touched as he walked, not in a straight line but with his backside slightly to the side of his front legs, as if his rear end was trying to catch up with his front end. When the old donkey reached the gate he pulled his lips back in what in human terms could be described as a smile, showing a mouth of brown stained and broken teeth. He brayed. Not the clear warning brays of a fierce guard donkey, but a throaty, raspy breathy sound as he welcomed Alvarez to his field. Alvarez first walked this road after a survey of the land for the school thirteen years ago. The donkey was old even then and starting to go blind. The farmer couldn’t afford to feed an animal that could no longer pull its weight at the farm and he was going to put him down. For no reason that Alvarez could ever understand he bought the animal and had been paying for his care and feeding ever since. He doubted that the donkey knew this, but did know that whenever Alvarez passed the farm—sometimes not for months—he had a pocketful of sugar cubes to share.

“How are you doing old fellow,” he queried as he held out a flat palm covered with white sugar cubes.

The animal slurped the cubes one at a time. Smiled again, asking for more.

“Getting old is a bitch eh my old friend?” he opined as he held out another handful of sugar. “We all need a little sugar to help forget the pain.”

The references to his mother and father during the dignitary visit had unnerved him for some reason. He always found it ironic that he had built the school in the memory of his family, yet there were memories he worked hard to avoid. The mention of his mother always brought them back.

He had really only known his parents as well as the memory of a ten year old could be dredged. His mother was a teacher and his father worked for the Agrarian Reform Institute, and while their combined salaries didn’t provide a house of luxuries, his remembered that his basic needs were taken care off. As a child, he never went hungry and he had access to good schooling — unlike many others in the country at that time he later learned. He even had vague memories of travelling abroad with his parents. Cuba was a popular destination in the late fifties. Their jobs made them active participants in 1944 revolution. But he was born in 1956, near the end of los diez anos de eterna primavera—the eternal spring as the revolutionaries like his parents called it—when the USA decided that too much democracy and land reform were cutting into the profits of the foreign controlled United Fruit Company that owned eighty percent of the arable farm land in the country. Both parents became early casualties of the thirty-year right wing counter-revolution that started the year of his birth. His father’s public friendship with Che Guevara—they worked together at the Institute—cost him arrest and disappearance when Eliseo was eight. When the Guardia picked up his father, Eliseo was sent to live with his mother’s uncle in Guatemala City, a retired businessman who had made his fortune building houses during the heady days of the “eternal spring’.

His mother went to hide with her Mayan family in the hills north of Petén. Elesio only visited her twice in the next seventeen years. His uncle explained that is was too dangerous for any of them to go to Dos Eres—not for Elesio, but for his mother. She was still on the government ‘hit list’ and she would be killed if they found her.

He was ten on his first visit to the Dos Eres. He remembered the tiny Catholic Church and the games with his cousins around the well in the centre of the village. No one in the village ever laughed at him for his misshapen body. Most of all he remembered his mother. She was taller than the other mothers in the village. Each night before sleep she told him stories of his Mayan ancestors. He always asked for the stories about the fierce Mayan warriors that attacked neighboring cities. He learned later that the stories of his Mayan ancestors defeating Spanish conquistadors were mostly fiction, but at ten years old he dreamed of vengeance on the evil Spanish soldiers and their priests who had tried to wipe out his ancestors. His mother never mentioned the possibility of the environmental causes that were the current popular speculation for the demise of the Mayan civilization.

He was twenty-two and on patrol as a Kaibiles recruit the last time he saw his mother. The patrol was looking for revolutionaries and the village of Dos Eres was identified as one place they might be hiding. The squad searched the village and found nothing but corn and goats. While he knew he couldn’t show any recognition for his mother, she knew him. She was as tall as he remembered from twelve years earlier as she stood defiantly in front of the other villagers, watching as the soldiers searched every home. They even searched the clapboard church. Before the squad left she gave him an understanding smile and a nod.

His great uncle had bought him the commission in the Kaibiles when he returned from college in Houston. “You will make the contacts needed to be a successful business man in Guatemala,” his great uncle had told him “Be a good soldier and every politician in the country will respect and fear you.” When he joined the newly formed Kaibiles in 1976 he was only a 20 year old looking for adventure. College in Houston had been a good life, but it wasn’t his home. Late seventies US society—especially Texas society—wasn’t welcoming to a misshapen Indian. By 1980 he was a commander and the Kaibiles Temv-K’a champion.

In December of 1982 he was on leave visiting his great uncle. The man was dying and he had asked to urgently see Alvarez in his home. When he arrived at his uncle’s home he was shown into the den-office area that had not changed since Elesio first saw it as a frightened 8 year old. The desk was as large as the pool table in the Kaibiles recreation area and the same painting of Don Quixote hung behind the desk. To Alvarez the eyes of Quixote seemed to follow him wherever he was in the room. For the first time he remembered, his uncle wasn’t sitting behind the large Guatemalan Mora wood desk but seated in one of the two chairs facing the desk.

“Welcome Elesio, my son,” the uncle greeted him as he put out his hand. “Thank you for coming. Please sit down. Have a drink.” He motioned with his own glass to the decanter of Botran that was always full.

Alvarez poured a drink and sat in the chair beside his uncle.

“Elesio I have taken care of you like my own son. And like a good son you have always done what I suggested. I know that it wasn’t easy for you to leave here and go to Houston for college. And I know challenging life as a Kaibile can be.”

He took a sip of his own rum and made a gentle cough.

“Now I need you to listen to me again.”

Elesio nodded.

“I want you and your new son to go back to your Kaibile unit. Wait six months then retire your commission. You are my sole heir so you will have enough money to live. I have acquired you a position with a new oil company in Houston. You can be safe and maybe prosperous there.”

“I don’t understand,” Elesio argued. “Why can’t I do my business in Guatemala as we have always planned? And what is this about an heir? You are still alive.”

The old man pushed a button on the table beside him. The door to the office opened. Alvarez recognized the man who entered as one of the men from Dos Eres.

The rest of the evening is still a blur in Alvarez’s mind as he heard the man describe the Dos Eres massacre.

The man started to cry. “I had been night hunting in the jungle two nights ago—it has taken me two days to work my way here—and when I returned at dawn to the sleeping village I watched from a small rise at the edge of the jungle as soldiers quietly encircled the village.”

“It is alright Manuel. Have another rum if you need it.”

“A small squad of men armed with carbines, pistols and big knifes marched into the village. Everyone was still asleep. Even the dogs were not up yet. They were all dressed in black instead of the usual army camouflage. They went from door to door and woke everyone up and then herded everyone into the town square that fronted the Church.”

Elesio remembered the small wooden structured Church.

“Soon all of the village was milling around confused, mothers hugging their children, men standing defiantly between the women and children and the soldiers. Ricardo —you remember him? My youngest brother. Only thirteen.” Manuel stared to sob again and there was silence as he recovered his composure. “Ricardo broke away from the crowd, ran towards the jungle and was instantly shot down by several of the encircling soldiers who fired at one time. Many bullets went into his body.”

Elesio crouched down as the maid approached the door with a tray of food and drinks. Her knock was answered with an angry “Not now,” from his Uncle.

“Carry on,” his uncle ordered.

The description came as a torrent of blubbered words.

“I watched my wife hold our two eight-year old twins close to her body as a soldier pushed her hard with his carbine. The itinerant priest who had been sleeping in the small wooden church gestured to the soldiers until one raised his carbine to the man’s forehead and pulled the trigger. Mary—your sister—rushed to the fallen priest and another soldier pulled a large knife from a sheath on his belt and plunged it into her back as she knelt over the priest. One soldier—apparently the leader—started to yell at the villagers. They all went quiet and after a few seconds Elesio’s mother stepped out from the crowd. The leader pulled a pistol from his hip and shot her in the forehead. He yelled orders again and the soldiers herded everyone into the wooden church. One by one they took the women into the square and raped them. Then one soldier took my four-year-old nephew and dropped him down the well. And then the soldiers burned everything. The church. The school. Every hut and storage lean-to. Every goat and barking dog was shot.”

“Scorched earth,” Elesio heard his uncle exclaim through his own tears.

His uncle turned to him. “Someone will know that your mother was in the village. You are not safe. I believe that you can wait six months to not raise suspicions, but after that you and your son need to get out of the country.”

He had done what his uncle ordered. Over the past 34 years he had built successful oil company, gradually purchased both property and influence around the country and 15 years ago built the school in memory of his mother.

But now he had a grandchild to deal with. He had no idea what he was going to do with her. It had not been his idea to bring her here. “Your daughter?” he had admonished Sergio by phone. “You kidnapped your daughter? From Canada? And she is going to stay in the Villa? Are you loco?”

“I told you, “ Sergio exclaimed. “The courts gave custody to her mother. Father, she is our blood. She should be with us. Should be raised as our family.”

Sergio had this notion that he could get her here and raise her as a loving daughter. He had used their oil contacts in Alberta to arrange the kidnapping and had sent three of his best men from Guatemala City to help out. From the report of the three men it had not gone as smoothly as anticipated. One of the men couldn’t talk for some reason and another had an arm in a sling. Apparently she fought back and some big kid intervened, tackling the third man who now limped from a bruised hip. It was only the intervention of the Canadian motorcycle gang driver who had to get out of the van and shove in her leg a hypodermic needle they had previously prepared.

Sergio had said he didn’t think that — other than the big kid—there were any witnesses. “Even if there were any witnesses,” Sergio had told him from Korea, “the van had stolen British Columbia plates and was now long gone. After the pick up, they used their normal routine for getting international girls to the school and all went smoothly.”

Petrobuy made several trips a year to Calgary to buy various oil related hardware items. This time it was three large, individually crated, line pumps. Unlike most of the other locations where they sent the jet on business, the Canadian officials couldn’t be bribed so there was an extra risk. But the three pumps were inspected in a bonded warehouse before loading and cleared for export to Guatemala. No one noticed that between the warehouse and the plane one crate was exchanged for another that had a small mattress and breathing holes. Once the plane landed in Flores there was no problem. All of the airport officials were on the Petrobuy payroll and were quite content to turn a blind eye to the occasional shipment of contraband. Sergio always slipped the agents a couple of bottles of expensive scotch to imply that the contraband was simply to support his expensive tastes. They were right. Elesio figured they just got the contraband wrong.

“Seems to me at fifteen she is pretty much raised don’t you think? What am I supposed to tell the Canadian government, or Guatemalan Child Services or even Interpol when they all come snooping around the school?”

“Tell them she is your Granddaughter and as a Guatemalan citizen she belongs here. No one will do anything. Just babysit her until I get back okay?”

A reluctant Alvarez had agreed to not do anything with her until he got back from Korea. As for the girl, Elesio figured that the Canadian gang member would never talk. And if Sergio shuts up, for a few days at least, no one in Canada will even know where she is.

A raspy bray brought him back to the gate on the main road to Flores. “All done for this time El Burro my friend.” He rubbed the donkey’s wispy haired forehead. “Sometimes I envy you the simplicity of your life.”

 

TWELVE

 

March 28th, 2016

Hello little schoolgirl…

 

 

The first thing that Laura noticed when she awoke was the humidity. She had only left Alberta to go to Ottawa and visit her grandparents, and she had only travelled within Alberta on school trips to Drumheller for the dinosaurs, and to somewhere south —she couldn’t remember the name—where the First Nations people used to drive buffalo over cliffs. She remembered a few hot days last summer when everyone complained about the heat and the humidity. Their basement apartment didn’t have air conditioning—most homes in Calgary didn’t bother with it—and her mother spent more time than usual at the university, but it was too early in the year for such heat in Calgary so she figured she must be somewhere else. She tried to sit up, but a flash of pain in her forehead pushed her back on the single bed. She slowly opened her eyes as if the movement of her eyelids would set off the pain.

The room slowly came into focus.

She saw that she was lying on a single bed with the headboard placed in the middle of a wall. A door—closed— was opposite the end of the bed and there were two windows on each of the sidewalls. Another door was on the wall opposite the first and only a few metres from the bed. There was a large painting of a creepy looking man’s head facing the bed. There was light coming through the curtains so she decided it was daytime. The room was a similar size to her room at home but without any of her personal things—the Feist poster, the Apple notebook on the small maple desk, her hockey bag and dirty clothes hanging over every chair and bedpost. There was a chair though; an old fashioned chair with little wings where your head would be. Her Grandma in Ottawa had one just like it. There was a flat screen TV in one corner of the room sitting on top of a DVD player. A bookshelf beside the TV held a dozen videos, and books, all suitable for young adults.

A three feet tall potted plant was in one corner. It was all leaves with no flowers and she didn’t recognize it. There was a bottle of water on the side table beside the bed and she was very thirsty so she slowly sat up and took a drink. She carefully got up and walked over to the door and turned the knob, but it was locked.

“Hello?” she gently talked to the door.

She shook the knob again.

“Hello?” Louder this time.

There was no response so she went back, sat on the bed and drank more water.

She tried to remember everything that had happened but there wasn’t anything she could recall after the van pulled up and the brief fight with some men. There was some pain like the time she stuck her finger in a live electric socket. She did remember Adrian body checking one of the men.

“I wonder if he is here too?” she asked out loud. She needed to hear a voice, even if it was hers. The thought that he might be here as well was comforting.

Her voice pleasantly echoed in the sparsely decorated room so she tried again.

“Hello? Is anyone out there? I need to go to the bathroom.”

No response.

“Okay. No problem. I am just going to pee in the potted plant in the corner.”

She did have to pee. Badly. She figured the plant would survive better than the floor. She still had on the sweat clothes she always wore to hockey games so pulling down the elastic wasted pants and cotton panties wasn’t difficulty even with a headache. She squatted over the plant and peed. The relief helped dissolve her headache. She stood up with her pants around her ankles looking for something to wipe herself. A quick glance at the pot showed her the soil absorbed her pee quite well. There was a small Kleenex box on the side table so she waddled over and took a tissue to wipe herself. She didn’t know how long she would have to wear the same panties and didn’t want them to get soiled.

She walked over and pulled the curtain back from one of the windows. There were air circulation slots all around the edge, but the window itself was made of solid, opaque glass cubes. One of the walls in the living room of their apartment in Calgary was made from these thick cubes.

She tried to peek out through the air vents but all she could see was greenery, no movement or people.

She sat back down on the bed. “Okay.” She yelled this time. She had no idea if anyone was listening but yelling felt good. Like she was the boss.

“Okay,” she yelled again. “Now I have to do number two.”

She paused.

“I think the plant is full. Maybe on the chair?”

She really didn’t know if she would get someone’s attention, but doing something—anything —kept her from crying. Her initial curiosity was starting to dissolve into a growing panic. She had no idea where she was. Or why she was grabbed. Was this the Gravelle brothers really getting even?

She did get someone’s attention. There was an electric type whir and the door clicked open. Laura said nothing as a woman walked into the room and pulled the wing chair over to the bed and sat facing Laura.

“You okay?” the woman asked in English. “I get the pee thing. When a girl has to pee a girl has to pee. My father would never stop to let us pee when we went on road trips. My mother had to yell at him and threaten to go on the seat of his new Buick. So I get it.”

The woman offered her hand. Laura figured that she was in her late twenties, maybe thirty. Her blond hair was probably real. She moved athletically, like she could jump aside at any moment if Laura attacked her.

“Look, I am Mary Ann,” she announced. “And, look, there is a full bathroom behind that door on the other side of the bed.”

Laura had not tried that door, but was glad she had peed in the plant. She didn’t offer her own hand.

“Okay. Look. Don’t blame you. You would probably like some answers. Look. I am from Canada too. I am a teacher and you are at a school. A really great one actually. It is too bad that they had to abduct you and drug you, but there was probably no other way to get you here.”

“Where is here?”

“Look.” Laura decided the woman liked to say ‘look’ a lot. “Look,” she said again. “I’ll fill you in on everything but first let’s get you fed and dressed. Come on. Let’s get out of this stupid room.”

The woman got up and Laura followed her out the door into a large room. The house—the woman that knocked and opened the door called it a villa—was more luxurious than anything Laura had ever seen. The kitchen alone was almost as big as her and her Mom’s apartment in Calgary. It had two huge shiny stainless steel refrigerators and a stove with eight burners. A large oven of some sort occupied one whole wall of the kitchen. The kitchen, dining and living areas were all one big open area. She counted six doors —she guessed bedrooms like the one she was in — that opened up on the long wall on one side of the kitchen. The dining area was on the other side and the living area opened up in front of her like the front of the church that her mom took her to once in a while. But there was a wall of glass instead of an alter at the end of the room. Laura caught only glimpses of sunshine and green before the woman hit a switch in the kitchen and the wall went dark.

The room was decorated in what Laura assumed was bamboo furniture. The walls were covered in a type of artwork she had never seen before, even on the school trip to the Calgary Gallery—colorful paintings of jungle animals and dark skinned people, and intricate wooden carvings. Lush plants were in pots hanging everywhere there was a space. Laura could hear a jumble of bird sounds outside.

The woman handed her a pile of clean clothes and two large fluffy towels. “Here. Go back to the bathroom in your room and freshen up. I’ll leave the outer door open and be right here fixing you some food.”

“My room?” Laura thought as she accepted the clothes. Not likely. Maybe there is a window I can get out of as well. She said nothing to the woman as she went back into the bedroom and closed the bathroom door behind her.

The bathroom was modern and western. There was no window. But the tub and shower were double the size of the one in their apartment. The tub was triangular and had a moulded seat along one side where the showerhead was located. She wondered why anyone would want to sit in a shower. She stripped off her dirty sweat clothes and underwear and dropped them on the floor. The hot shower washed away her headache. To her surprise the pile of clean clothes fit her. She was tall for her age and slender. Most of the girls her age she knew at school were already pear shaped at fifteen. The clothes were uniform like— lose fitting cream shorts, a white cotton tee shirt. The panties were smooth cotton. There was no bra, but that didn’t bother her since she hardly had much to hold in place. She used a tight sports bra when she played hockey or other sports, but otherwise she liked to wear just the kind of cotton tee shirt given to her here. Her Mother said she would have made a good hippy.

She sat on the toilet. There was another toilet looking device without a seat beside the regular toilet. She pulled what she thought was the flush cord and a squirt of water almost hit her in the face. She used one of the fluffy towels to wipe the water off the floor and a second one to towel dry her hair.

She sat on the toilet and tried to think. “I have been kidnapped, zapped and drugged,” she concluded. And I am in a place with a humid climate. There is a lady out there who says she is a teacher and I am at a school. I am tired, hungry and thirsty.”

She looked around the bathroom to see if she could find a clue to her location. The towel labels were all Costco Kirkland brand. The bathroom fixtures were Moen—could be anywhere in North America. The shampoo bottle was Pantene. She had discarded the paper cover for the miniature bar of soap in a wicker garbage pail. She leaned down and picked up the paper—Avocado Essence Co., Guatemala City, Guatemala.

Up to this point she had been surprisingly calm. She had always been like that. Whenever everyone around her was stressed out—like the time the neighbors apartment caught fire—she was always calm and thoughtful. She was the one who had called 911 while the woman sat on the grass outside screaming. Her predicament was puzzling, but she had not yet seen any reason to panic. But the label made chills run down her spine. She now knew where she was and who had kidnapped her, and the first inkling of panic and fear crept into her stomach.

“Shit,” she exclaimed. “The bastard has freaking kidnapped me.”

She rarely cursed, but felt no remorse at calling her father a bastard. Her early memories—those from under six—were sketchy at best. They all involved a drunken father and a crying mother. But as she grew older, there were the indelible moments of his comforting visits to her room at bedtime. By the time she realized that such fatherly attention was neither normal nor acceptable, his actions had already varnished her with an emotionally and physically protective shell. She had not seen him since the night five years ago when she fought back with some of the moves her Grandfather had taught her. She smiled as she fondly remembered the moaning man in a three-point stance crawling from her bedroom holding his privates in his right hand. He never visited after that and had not returned until the court challenge for custody. He had lost the legal battle but now he appeared to have won the custody fight.

“Why would he do this now?” she shuddered. “What does he have in mind?”

Now that she knew where she was and who had brought her here, she felt in control. Her panic, fear and confusion dissolved into anger. Whatever he had in mind, she would find a way to get home. She stood in front of the mirror and tussled her curly black hair. “In the twenty first century you can’t just kidnap a Canadian and get away with it,” she announced to the mirror. “I am not the little girl he might remember,” she exclaimed with great resolve.

 

THIRTEEN

 

March 30, 2016

Midewiwin…

 

 

“Mateguas,” Kasikiskit announced as she froze the video on a frame where Laura was looking in the direction of the camera.

Lorne squinted at the grainy image.

“I agree. Medeoulin for sure.”

“What the neck are you guys talking about? Mate… what? Mede who?”

Adrian stretched out in the Lazy Boy that faced the wall-sized picture window in his Grandma’s condo apartment. The myriad of night-lights of the city far below always seemed to have a hypnotizing effect on his thinking. Some lights twirled around and others looked like they were trying to escape something. All represented some person and he often imagined what the individual behind the light was doing. His Grandma bought him a telescope for Christmas last year but he only used it to look at the sky. He felt creepy trying to look at the person behind the light, although with the high power he could see right into the kitchens, bedrooms and offices of the downtown condo towers that surrounded them. He preferred to imagine what was happening than to actually see it.

His favorite view was the winding Bow River as it made its way to the civilized plains of Calgary from the wild Rockies. He imagined his ancestors hunting buffalo where the condo stood, and canoeing down the Bow from the mountains just in time to beat the first fall freeze.

His thoughts tonight were all about Laura. She had been kidnapped and he wasn’t able to stop it. He wasn’t sure what their relationship was. He had never really had a girlfriend so he didn’t know if this is what you felt when you had one. He knew he missed her. Actually it was more than missed. There was some kind of weird ache in his stomach when he thought of not seeing her again. And he knew that he desperately wanted to help her.

Their relationship had not been easy at first. He was naturally shy but wanted to be accepted by his peers. She was a loner who didn’t seem to have —or want—any friends. He was First Nations and she was Caucasian—well mostly Caucasian he learned later. He excelled at school and liked to talk about politics, religion and other spiritual things. She said that stuff bored her. They were both good athletes, though his attributes came from size, and her success came from some weirdly fast reflexes. He liked to laugh and tell bad jokes. She liked to tease him and then laugh.

They found common ground in family life.

Her parents were never married and she now lived with her mother. The only time he saw her almost cry was when she told him about the custody court case they were going through and she had to choose which parent she wanted to live with.

“You love them both?” Adrian had asked.
“No. I had to tell the judge why I hated my father. It was embarrassing.”

He was wise enough to not push the conversation further, but learned in bits and pieces over the next month or so about her father.

He wondered if it might have been a good thing that he never knew his father. His mother had died when he was still an infant and he had been raised by his Grandma in Calgary, only visiting his birthplace on the reserve for part of every summer.

“Hey. He’s alive,” Kasikiskit laughed, interrupting his wandering. “Thought you were lost in that never, never world you go into when you stare out that window.”

Lorne was his Grandma’s friend who lived with them periodically. He had a big job with some oil company and travelled all over the world meeting with aboriginal groups. Adrian was now old enough to realize that this man’s relationship with his Grandma was more than just friends, but he grossed himself out when ever he imagined them in the same bed.

Lorne was more patient than his Grandma in teaching him about his culture. She was always too busy with her work with the CFFN. When Lorne was in town he always had time for Adrian. Lorne was an Algonquin from Eastern Canada and always joked that Laverne and he got along so well because Algonquians were a peace loving tribe while Laverne’s Crees were bloodthirsty warriors.

“Opposites attract. Right?’‘ he would remind everyone regularly.

Lorne talked to Adrian about the history of the various tribes across Canada and the challenges they face in modern Canadian society.

Life was good. He was doing well in school, lived in a luxury apartment in downtown Calgary and was generally accepted by his schoolmates and hockey friends. The hockey playing Gravelle family was a very isolated exception in his experience. Many of the difficulties faced by other First Nations groups across the country were hard for him to understand. His simple questions always got complicated answers.

“Why don’t they just go to school and get jobs like everyone else?”

“Why do they live on those crummy reserves?”

“Do all tribes have treaties?”

“What’s a treaty?”

“What’s a Metis? And why am I considered one, an not your kids in Ontario?”

Over the years, Lorne’s patient discussions had taught him much about his heritage and the importance of the work that both Laverne and Lorne did in their respective areas.

Tonight he had another question.

“I was. But I heard you and Lorne talking about her. What are those names you used?”

“Come over here and take a look at this still frame,” Lorne beckoned.

Adrian let the Lazy Boy eject him to his feet got up and he walked closer to the flat screen television.

“This is a freeze frame just before the second guy tried to take a swing at Laura. What do you see?”

“She is looking at him?”

“Right. She is fending off the first guy and is looking at the second guy even before he tries to hit her.”

“So? I know that she has fast reflexes. Everyone who had played hockey with her knows that.”

“In our culture she would be a Shaman.”

“She isn’t First Nations.” Adrian knew all about Shamans.

“Every culture has their ‘shaman’ group. In my Algonquin culture we call them Medeoulin. Crows call them Akbaalia —healer. Other tribes use animal names. That’s why your Grandma called her Mateguas—rabbit. Children are often identified early in their lives, either through family lines or behaviour, by some special talent or skill. They then usually become the tribe ‘healer’ —taught the ancient ways of healing. Ordinary tribe members are more likely to listen to them if they think the ‘healer’ has extraordinary powers. Not much different than the direct line to God thing that Catholic priests use with their followers.”

“Right,” Kasikiskit continued. “Of course they never have any supernatural powers, they were just special in some way. Extraordinary ‘fast reflexes’ as you call it was a common one. For example, they could do the old shaman trick of catching a fly in the air. Or the Inuk shaman trick to take a dormant fly and warm it up in their hand and then ‘bring it back from the dead’. Mataguas—rabbit—was used to actually describe someone with special ‘speed’. Some used those reflexes to become great warriors, but many became shamans.”

“But she isn’t aboriginal?”

“Well, I hate to break it to you, but aboriginals don’t have a monopoly on unique human traits. Every race and culture has people with various special talents. Your talent for memory isn’t exactly a documented ‘aboriginal only’ trait.”

Lorne interrupted. “True. But many aboriginal groups actually bred the shaman bloodlines, so genetically it is possible that special traits like Laura’s could be more predictable. And she is part Mayan is she not?”

Adrian had never thought of her as Aboriginal.

“Her father is Guatemalan so I guess he had some Mayan blood in there somewhere.”

Adrian walked back and sat in the upright lazy boy. “So she is —Medeoulin? How will that help us get her home? Find her kidnappers?”

“I’ve made some calls Adrian,” Kasikiskit announced. “It isn’t good.”

 

FOURTEEN

 

April 14th, 2016

Education will set you free…

 

 

For the first week she had been locked in the bedroom and only let out to eat meals in the villa kitchen.

“Why am I here?” she had asked the first morning, after she returned from the shower.

“Look. Come on and get some breakfast and I’ll answer all your questions Laura,” Mary Ann offered.

Hunger overtook anger and Laura cautiously sat down at a dining room table that would seat a dozen people. A dark skinned older woman, who Laura just noticed for the first time, placed a plate of tortilla wrapped eggs on the table in front of her. A glass of orange juice and a cup of dark coffee were already there

“To join your family of course,” the teacher replied as she sat across from Laura at the dining room table and sipped her coffee.

“My father did this. Right?” Laura demanded.

Laura guessed that the woman was thirty or so, but Laura always had trouble guessing older people’s ages. She told Laura once again that she was Canadian as well, which was Laura’s second confirmation that she wasn’t in Canada. The humidity had been the first, and the soap clinched it. The woman was beautiful. She was almost as tall as Laura and her blond hair draped over broad shoulders and an athletic frame. She spoke kindly and Laura didn’t think that she was in any danger from this person.

“My mother is my family.”

“Look. That’s partially true on the Canadian side. But you have a big family on your father’s side.”

“I have grandparents in Canada as well.” Laura wondered what this woman knew.

“You did. Were you close to your grandfather?”

This woman knew the answer to that question.

“Does my mother know where I am?” She chose to ignore the question about her grandfather.

“Yes. She and the Canadian officials have been told you here, are safe, and you are with your family.”

Confirmation again about my location, Laura thought.

“So,” Laura looked up from her plate of eggs. “Where actually am I? You can’t keep me here.”

“You are at your father’s school in Guatemala. And, look, we hope we will not have to keep you here because you will want to stay here.”

Over the next week Laura had gradually been given more freedom. First the window in the great room had been left unblocked. From what she could see, the house—villa— was built on the edge of the jungle. While the viewing radius of the windows was almost 180 degrees she couldn’t see any other buildings or even roads. There was a thick green, two metres tall hedge about thirty metres from the villa, and beyond that a thick jungle that absorbed the light and the horizon. On two occasions she saw some people emerge from the jungle so there must be a path there somewhere. Another time she watched as a man on a small tractor mowed all of the grass and then trimmed the green hedge between the villa and the jungle.

She was also allowed into another side room off the living area. The room had no windows and could be darkened to watch the sixty-inch flat screen TV. There was bank of chairs like a small movie theatre and she was allowed to watch a few hours of TV every day, in addition to the movies she had in her bedroom. ESPN even had a Flames game on one evening. A five feet tall safe occupied one corner of the room next to the TV. There was also a table along the wall of the room opposite the door with a twenty-seven inch iMac. Once, when she was left alone for a few moments, she tried to get into the computer but it was password protected. They had taken her iPhone so her twitter and Facebook friends would be worried about her. She especially wanted to find out if Adrian was okay.

By the end of the week, her initial panic at the abduction had subsided. She decided if she had any chance of escaping her best bet was to appear cooperative and she would get more freedoms.

“Look. Would you like to see the school?” The woman asked at the start if the second week.

“Yes,” Laura enthusiastically responded. “Will I see my father soon?”

“He’s out of the country right now. So, look, in the meantime let’s get you started in school.”

The news of her father was good. She was afraid of him. Especially after she had testified against him in the custody hearing.

By the end of the second week she was settling into the school.

It appeared to be a good school. Modern facilities. The teachers were educated, bilingual and enthusiastic. There was even a computer lab where they could connect to the Internet using iPads, but only download from selected sites and not upload. “No social media at this this school apparently,” she mused after trying unsuccessfully to log into her Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts. And compared to a Calgary winter, this was not a bad climate. So far the food had been palatable and everyone friendly and welcoming. There was even a sports field where she could play soccer—they called it football here. Her special attributes had already made her the centre of attention in the daily pickup games.

“Maybe I will stay here for a while,” she muttered as she put her iPad back in the rough cotton bag that all of the girls used to carry their school materials.

There were, however, some anomalies about the place that she was starting to notice.

Why with all of the other freedoms she had, was she locked up every night? Clearly no one was worried about her wandering off during the day. Security was tight. As she walked with several of the other girls along the outdoor covered walkway to the science lab she tried to count the cameras she could see without looking at them. She didn’t know the area that each would cover, but she guessed that they were placed to allow coverage of the whole outside space of the school. As far as see could see there were not any cameras in the actual classrooms.

The school itself was at the end of a dead end road three kilometres from the suburb of St. Helena. The Faculty mostly lived on the island of Flores, while all two hundred students lived in an apartment style dorm 100 metres from the school towards town. The Villa was 100 metres further the other way down the dead end road, closer to the jungle than the school. One day near the end of her second week of freedom at the school she skipped the soccer game and casually walked through the gates of the school and started down the road to Flores. She had only gone twenty metres when a man with a gun of some sort emerged from the bushes beside the road fifty metres further on. He didn’t say anything. Just stood in the middle of the road. Laura waived at him and smiled and turned around and went to join the soccer game.

She wouldn’t be escaping that way, she decided.

She was starting to make some friends, especially with the other international girls. They all had interesting —sometimes-tragic — stories about where they came from and how they got to the school. Some were from poor Guatemalan families—many were Indigenous—and had been picked for their academic and leadership promise from the primary schools they had attended. Others were indeed orphaned refugees from dangerous places in the world. They told stories of the refugee camps they had lived in and how for some reason they had been picked to come to this school.

She started to spend time with two international girls, one from Africa and another from Mexico. None of the Guatemalan girls spoke English so it was difficult to make friends, but Esse and Manuela both spoke English. The Boko Haram had kidnapped Esse. She had escaped and made it to an oil rig where the men had protected her and arranged for her to be sent out of the country to the school. She had some relatives in her home village, but the terrorists had killed her parents. Manuela’s family had all been killed by one of the cartels near Iguala. They were both teachers in Iguala and had protested the abduction of forty students form the local college. When the killers came to find her she ran away to Mexico City and was found by social workers there.

The Guatemalans and the refugees were grateful and unreservedly happy to be here. Apparently she was the only one that had been abducted.

One day at lunch she asked Esse if anyone tried to leave the school.

“Leave? Not really. Why would anyone want to leave this and go back to the place they were before?”

“So no one ever leaves?”

“Well a couple of times a year a girl gets homesick and tries to leave. I think that the school just sends them back home. We never see them again. Delores from Argentina went home a month or so ago. And I remember a Korean girl—I never really knew her since she didn’t speak either Spanish or English—was sent home last year.”

“So you just have to try and leave and then they send you home?”

“Looks like it. But I can’t see why any girl would want to trade this for where they came from. As far as I can tell none of the foreign girls even have a family to go to.”

Laura wondered if she tried to run away her father would just send her home? But then she had not yet decided whether she wanted to stay or not.

One evening after dinner at the end of the second week she was watching Pitch Perfect on the TV in her room when a knock came on the door.

“Can I come in?”

“Sure,” Laura responded as Mary Ann entered the room without waiting for permission. “Can I come out?”

“Yes. Look. There is someone you need to meet.”

Laura got up from the bed and followed Doughty.

“Why are you here?” was all she could think of saying as she entered the great room of the Villa.”

She stood by the door to the bedroom as the man put his drink down on the coffee table and rose from the chesterfield. He walked over, looked up to her and offered his hand.

“Hello Laura,” he nervously grinned.

 

FIFTEEN

 

April 14, 2016

Grandpa…where are you when I need you.

 

 

Elesio wasn’t sure who was more surprised and uncomfortable, him or the girl.

Even though she had met him once when she was younger, she was clearly shocked at his appearance. Some people—mostly waiters and such who don’t realize how socially and politically powerful he was—are dismissive, and even rude, when they meet him for the first time. Sometimes he even used his appearance for some fun. He would amble through a room—maybe a restaurant—swinging his long arms like a real monkey would walk. When a particularly rude waitress would ask him what he wanted to order he would tell her that a bunch of bananas would be nice.

The monkey thing was fun. Ultimately everyone laughed. Not so much the Indigenous thing.

His appearance was unmistakably Indigenous. And the remnants of Spanish colonialism still seethed with racism. He could ameliorate Texas racism with money, but not the Guatemalan. There were still members of old Spanish families who belonged to the exclusive Guatemala City Golf course who question his membership. Even as the men’s champion there were members who wouldn’t play with him. He understood that if he didn’t hold all of the course’s considerable debt they would probably find a way to get him off the roster. His fun at the course was hanging around the caddie shack—almost all caddies were Indigenous— and seeing how long it took before some member hired him as a caddie. He liked spending time with the caddies and hearing their family stories and learning where they came from. Many were from the northern part of the country where his family was from, and several were from the area around the school in Flores. It was amazing that even with his photo on the clubhouse wall as the course champion for the last five years, there were still members who couldn’t tell one Indian from another, even a deformed one.

It was especially enlightening to hang around the club on women’s day.

“I’ll take the old one there,” one woman ordered the caddie chief as she pointed to Elesio. The woman was late to the choosing and Elesio was sitting at the rough wood picnic table in front of the shack talking to the boys that remained. The chief started to say something to the woman but Elesio looked at the man and shook his head.

“Is the man capable?” she asked the chief without looking at Elesio.

“Si, Senorita,” Rubio replied with twinkle in his eye. “He can manage well enough.”

Elesio picked up her shiny set of Taylor Made clubs.

“Hurry up,” she ordered.” We are late.”

She turned out to be a terrible golfer. Elesio spent most of his time looking for her pink balls in the rough. Through the whole round she only addressed him to ask for a club or give and order.

“A six iron,” she would order, when Elesio knew she needed a three wood.

And she cheated.

“Give me a four on that one,” she announced when he counted six.

When she started talking business to her fellow golfers he recognized her.

Over the first nine holes she described Indigenous farm workers as overpaid, genetically lazy and intellectually inferior. And free elections as a way for the ignorant to ruin the country. Her playing partners always nodded in agreement, although one woman looked back uncomfortably at Elesio and the other caddies as the woman ranted.

The next day he started quietly buying up shares in her family’s agribusiness. When he had a majority of the shares he wiped the board and the management of her complete family. Her husband, three sons, a daughter and four grandchildren were suddenly unemployed. Then he broke the company up, selling farm assets to local Indigenous cooperatives for ten cents on the dollar, effectively eliminating the family fortune. The irony was that even when she met him at shareholder meetings she never associated him with the invisible caddie from that day on the golf course.

So he was used to combinations of shock, revulsion and even dismissal when he met people for the first time. Laura’s look was one of surprise, but he couldn’t determine anything else yet.

In truth it was he who was surprised. He had seen photos of her, but nothing prepared him for such a tall and beautiful girl. He could see her Russian heritage in the shape of the face—the square and resolute jaw. And the blue eyes where certainly from the Caucasian gene pool. But the rest was the most attractive blend of Indian and Spanish he had ever seen. Her long black hair was Indigenous black, but Spanish curled. Her forehead was large—that lady golfer referred to the look as Neanderthal—but tempered by a delicate Spanish jaw. A man would fill the contours of that jaw with a goatee. Hers framed fulsome lips.

“Come. Sit over here.” He pointed to the chesterfield. “Would you like a drink? Mary Ann, get the girl what she wants please.”

Laura sat in the chair opposite the chesterfield.

“Was it you who kidnapped me?”

“No. Your father did all that. He was pretty angry at the custody decision.”

“Couldn’t you just have bought me a plane ticket?”

“Would you have come?”

“No. I hate my father.”

“So I am guessing he figured the only way to get you here was to kidnap you?”

“Why am I here? When can I go home?” Laura accepted the fruit drink.

“Don’t you like it here?”

“The school is okay. But I don’t like being a prisoner in that bedroom. Why can’t I live with the other girls?”

“If you were free like the others would you try and get home?”

“No. Of course not.”

“Of course you would,” he laughed. “You are my granddaughter. You would never accept being controlled in this way.”

“Where is my father?”

“On a business trip. So what do you know about me?”

“Mom said you were rich and mostly lived in Texas. She never really talked about you much. But I don’t think she liked you. Neither did my father. He called you the old bastard.”

“Pretty young girls shouldn’t swear.”

“Fuck you.” Laura shocked herself. She had never sworn in front of an adult before. “Why am I here? Did you suddenly decide that you needed a new granddaughter? Neither my Mom nor me have heard or received anything from you in fifteen years. Right now we live in a rented basement apartment while you live in villas and whatever. I am the only thing that she has left after her relationship with your son, and now you take that. How do you think she is doing right now?”

He winced. “I have sent her some money. And told her that you are safe and well taken care of.”

It is true that he had sent Laura’s mother some money and that some of his people had visited her and assured her all was well. He was appalled about the kidnapping and felt sorry for her.

“Did you tell her when I would be home?”

“That’s up to your father. I had nothing to do with you coming here and have nothing to do with what your father decides to do with you.” That was all true as well. Part of him wanted to send her home right away. But it wasn’t his decision and he didn’t expect his son home for another couple of weeks. As he talked to her a strange part of him wanted her to stay. “So I guess we are stuck with each other for a while.”

“Can I continue to go to the school?”

“Do you like the school?”

“Yeah. It’s kind of cool. There are all of these kids from around the world. And we each get our own iPad.” Laura’s mom couldn’t afford an iPad. “But why can’t I go on Facebook and other sites?”

Alvarez thought about how he should answer. The truth was he felt that most of the world wasn’t ready for uncontrolled or unfiltered social media. Facebook was an efficient way to keep in touch with friends, but also an efficient way to spread misinformation. Most young people —most people period—were not prepared to filter out the truth. Hate sites proliferate. And the anonymity of the Internet allows people to say hateful and violent things they would never say in person. He withdrew from Facebook after growing tired of reading the steady stream of hate comments he received as a Indigenous person and as the head of an oil company. He had special disdain for the Facebook users who sat at their desks promoting the social cause of the day with the click of the forward or post key. “Type Amen if you agree.” or “Click yes to cure cancer.” And the barrage of unsolicited wisdom was particular galling. One quote was invariably negated by the next. He had decided that he would protect his students from both the hate and the clicktavists. They would have a long life dealing with the confusion of miss messaging. They didn’t need to gorge their teenage years with it.

“I believe that interaction with social media is something you need to earn.”

“How?”

“With knowledge and maturity. Do you have friends who get all of their knowledge and opinions from Facebook or Instagram? Has anyone ever said anything hateful about you?”

She shuddered when thought about the comments on her Facebook page after she helped the Spartans win the men’s A Division Championship.

“Your mom was right about me being rich. And it is mostly from oil. This school is a sort of hobby for me, and a way to pay a little back to my country. There are many young girls in this country that don’t have access to good schooling, so I built this school and have my people pick the best young girls out of the public school system-—the private ones don’t need my help— and bring them here for what you in Canada would call their high school or secondary school education. Almost all go on to good universities. If they do, I pay their tuition as well.”

“What about the ones from other countries? How do they get here?”

That was a different hobby —Sergio’s. Not his.

“Just disadvantaged girls that someone identifies as having special attributes that good schooling could help with.”

“I noticed that they are all orphans?”

Elesio was impressed that she put that much together in only a few weeks in class.

“Who is more disadvantaged than an orphan?”

“What about those that try and run away?”

He stood up from and put his empty glass on the coffee table.

“I have to go now Laura. I have some business to attend to. But it was a pleasure to finally meet you. I am sorry that you have to stay in the Villa here at night. Your father insists that all of the international girls spend their first month in the villa, but I hope that now we have met you will let me visit?”

Laura shrugged her shoulders.

“Thank you. I’ll drop by after school as much as I can and we can chat?”

He didn’t know why he said that. He intention was to only stay until he had both finalized the plans for the Belize golf course, and attended the next board meeting. Spending time with her wasn’t on the agenda. She was her father’s business. He had a comfortable house in Flores that overlooked the lake where he stayed and conducted his business, but he had intended on going back to Houston in early May. Now he was telling a girl he had only met that he would visit. With his regular visits to Belize to consult with the course designer, this would be a challenge, but he was strangely looking forward to it. He knew that he had many grandchildren —mostly illegitimate and he supported them all without ever remembering their names. This one was somehow different. He needed to find out why.

 

SIXTEEN

 

April 14, 2016

I am from the government and I am here to help…

 

 

“Can I get you something? A tea or coffee?”

Lorraine Salmy shook her head no. “Thanks. I am fine”

“A juice maybe. Or a pop? We get a lot of kids visiting these days,” the twenty something male receptionist whined. “It seems that every teacher in Southwest Calgary thinks their students should interview a local politician at least once in their life. Like he has no more important things to do than argue climate change with some precocious twelve year old. But there is another election in a few years and they all have voting parents so he meets with them all. At least in Ottawa he can focus upon government business.”

“Okay. I’ll have a diet Pepsi if you have one?” She thought maybe giving him something to do would shut him up.

“For sure. Comin’ right up.”

She was sitting in one of a row of four chairs lined up against the wall. In front of the chairs there was a rectangular coffee table with pile of Conservative Party brochures on one side and a neatly folded copy of the morning’s Herald on the other. In between was copy of Stephen Harper’s book “The Great Game.” She picked up the hockey book and flipped though some pages. She thought Laura might enjoy this book except that Harper wrote it. She couldn’t vote yet, but she had told her mother that she didn’t like his policies on Aboriginal Women and climate change, so even though they shared a passion for hockey, she would unlikely want to read his book.

“We could get you an autographed copy if you wanted?” the man offered as he handed her a can of Pepsi—it wasn’t diet—and a plastic glass.”

She placed the book back on the table, opened the can and poured the drink. “Will he be long?”

“He looked over at the blinking lights on the desk phone. “I don’t think so. But you can never tell how long these conference calls will last.”

“Yeah. You said that.”

The young man sat down in the desk chair and pulled out his iPhone.

Loraine pulled a strand of brown hair from her face and tucked it behind her ear. She wondered if her makeup was sufficiently covering the dark bags under her eyes. She had not slept more that a few hours a night since the kidnapping three weeks ago. Everyone—police, press, and friends—quickly learned that Laura was in Guatemala. Sergio had posted a message on his Facebook telling all of his ‘friends’ how Laura was now safe with her true family. While there were no photos of Laura —the police told Lorraine that he likely had this message prepared before the kidnapping—he posted photos of the school— some girls in a well equipped science lab and even some photos of the bedroom that Laura where would be staying. He had also posted a decade old photo of Lorraine lying on a chesterfield passed out and surrounded by empty beer tins. The caption just read Mother??? CBC had sent a local stringer to the school but was not allowed to see Laura, although they did get an interview with a Canadian woman who teaches at the school. “Look. I think you should respect the family’s privacy,” she lectured the reporter. “Laura has had a long trip and she needs to spend some quiet time with her Grandfather.”

The reporter asked how long she would be staying in Guatemala.

“How long?” she answered with some disdain. “Look. This is now her home and her school. And as you know this is an outstanding school. It is UN and International Baccalaureate sanctioned. She is with a loving family and getting a good education, so I don’t think that she will want to go anywhere.”

CBC’s own research had verified the school’s status.

He asked the teacher if he could interview Sergio.

“Her father is away on a business trip to Korea. But he has sent her his love.”

Lorraine scoffed at that one. “His kind of love can’t be sent over broadband,” she yelled at the TV.

Within a few days of the kidnapping it was old news for everyone. She had been bounced from office to office in Ottawa trying to find some place in the government that showed any interest in an international domestic dispute. Foreign Affairs assured her that they were working diligently on her file and they would call her if there were progress. She wondered where Laura fit as a priority next to the negotiation of free trade agreements with Europe.

She had never felt this alone. She had stayed with her mother while in Ottawa, but they had never been close. Her mother had never fully forgiven her for the drinking and partying days and had never fully accepted Laura. Apparently leftist thinking was for systems and ideology, not family. Now she actually suggested that Laura might be better off, “…close to her Indigenous roots, rather than raised in an imposed white man’s world.” Her mother had dream catchers in every room of the house she shared with her partner. She hung a feather —Laura was sure it was a seagull’s—in her braided, grey hair. Her partner, although the daughter of two prominent Jewish doctors in Ottawa, was applying for ‘status’ through a claim of some mysterious and distant past. At least her partner showed some sympathy. “I’ll ask some friends in Native Affairs if they can help,” she offered one evening after Lorraine returned to the apartment empty handed of any government encouragement.

She had a brother who was a successful lawyer in Montreal, but they had not spoken much since her ‘dark’ days or since their father died in a house fire. His wife didn’t approve of anything Lorraine did in her life—including thinking she could now be a teacher. “That’s why we send our children to private school,” she had lectured her husband. “The public system might actually hire someone like Lorraine.” Her brother was sympathetic but Lorraine could tell that he and his wife shared the view Laura was probably better off with the father.

If her own father had been alive she was sure that he wouldn’t be so complacent. He had always had a special relationship with Laura. But he was gone and no one was there to help. Her local MP was the last stop.

“I was thinking of running myself if Herb decided not to go again.”

“Really? Is the iPhone telling you that?” Lorraine thought it was rude when people stared at their phones while talking with a real person.

“Ha! No…just checking our tweets for today. We’re trending up. Looks good for the by-elections in 19. You think I am too young? Trudeau is only forty-four you know. But nice hair right?” He expected Lorraine to laugh with him.

“Looks like you are losing yours?” She guessed he was somewhere in his mid twenties, but already had a comb over. He will fit right in with the grey hairs.

The comment skimmed over his balding head. “Sort of makes me look a little more mature don’t you think? More trustworthy?”

He glanced at the desk phone again. “Oops. Light is off. Conference call done.” He got up and walked to a closed door at the back of the room. “I’ll see if he is ready for you.”

His office was in a closed-down liquor in store a strip mall on Elbow Drive, refurbished as his constituency office. It had taken her a week to get a meeting with him. Maybe if I was in grade five I could have seen him sooner, she wondered. Then again, maybe they somehow knew that she had campaigned for the NDP in the last provincial election and didn’t see her as a potential vote. It was only after the CBC ran a story on Laura’s abduction that Herb Kaskin, her member of parliament, showed any interest in her case.

“Ms. Salmy.”

She recognized him from the many photos and television interviews she had seen. He was little taller and thinner than he looked on television. She had heard that TV makes you look fat but for a man in his sixties he was actually trim and athletic. He had a full head of silver hair that rolled back in waves over his crown and ears. “Now that is nice hair,” one of her fellow students had exclaimed as they watched the news one evening in the university student centre.

She reached for his outstretched hand. “Thank you for meeting me sir. I know that you are busy. I’ll try and not take too much of your time.” His grip was firm, but not solicitous.

“Please. Come in and sit down. You are the last meeting of the day so we have lots of time.” That explains the empty waiting room, she thought. He smiled as he pulled out her chair for her to sit and he sat in the other chair in front of his desk and not in the chair behind his desk. “Robert, bring me a coffee and Ms. Salmy her drink?”

She nodded, suddenly wanting something stronger than a non-diet pop.

He took his coffee as Robert closed the door behind him. “Could even stretch into dinner if we have to. But let’s get started. Tell me where you are with this case. Start with the police.”

This was all thoroughly covered in the CBC story, but she went over it again.

“Okay. Well the Calgary police have investigated the abduction and know exactly how it happened, and how Laura was taken out of the country. They know who was behind it, but they believe that the perpetrators were likely contract abductors of some sort. They say the file is still open, but there isn’t anything more they can do. It is on the books as a domestic dispute and international kidnapping. They have passed the file onto the RCMP.”

“I see. And what has the RCMP done?”

“Well, they classed this as international parental abduction. I guess there are many similar cases each year where an estranged immigrant parent takes a child back to their home country.”

“Yes. I remember a case not too long ago where several children were illegally taken back to the Middle East by their father?”

“Yeah. That was a public one, but there are others and the story is all the same. One parent has a custody court order and the other parent who loses simply takes the children to another country.”

“ And what does the RCMP do?”

“Nothing. In Laura’s case Guatemala is a signatory to the Hague Convention on child abduction and is supposed to return the abducted child to Canada. But the legal process is all in Guatemala, not Canada, so there isn’t anything the RCMP can do. They told me that it is a diplomatic issue, not an RCMP issue now. They sent me to foreign affairs.”

“Did you see them?”

“Yes. I flew to Ottawa and met with a —she glanced down at her notebook—Phyllis Rockport. She told me that they are pursuing every diplomatic route possible to get Laura back. They have directed a Canadian Embassy official to visit Laura to see if she is in any danger.”

“So you know where she is?”

“Of course. She is with her father and grandfather in Flores, Guatemala.”

“Is she in any danger?”

“The Embassy in Guatemala City says no. She has good living quarters and is going to a good school. Her Grandfather is a well known and apparently respected citizen.”

“I see.” He took a sip of his coffee. “You and the father were never married were you?”

“No. By the time we had Laura I realized I didn’t want to marry him.”

“She has dual citizenship, right?”

“Well she is Canadian first, but since her father was a Guatemalan citizen he was able to have her granted the same. But she is Canadian, not Guatemalan.”

“I see. You know that many countries —in particular those Spanish colonial history—will not likely extradite their own citizens to another country?”

She wanted to lecture him that ‘Not likely’ was the wrong phrase. ‘Not’ is the right descriptor. She had learned from Foreign Affairs that it was the difference between countries that operated under civil or common law. “If she was in a country that operated under the principles of common law—like Canada, or even next door Belize—,” Phyllis had explained, “it would be easier to have her, in essence, deported. It is too bad she wasn’t abducted to a commonwealth country.”

Lorraine now realized that he was thoroughly briefed on her case. She wondered if her wait in the office with Robert was for Herb to be briefed before he met with her. Extradition law wasn’t something she would expect a backbench, opposition M.P. to know off the back of his hand.

“I’ve been told this several times now.” She had spent the past week going from government office to government office and was loosing her patience. She figured she might as well cut to the chase. “Okay. It has been explained to me that Laura’s case needs to go through a two-step court process in Guatemala. First with child welfare authorities to determine if Laura is in danger, and then the immigration proceedings to see if she can be sent back to Canada. The visit by the Canadian Embassy official pretty much took care of the first. And the second will take months and put Laura at the mercy of Guatemalan judges, many of whom I assume are friends or acquaintances of Laura’s grandfather. No one gives me much hope.”

“Like the Lev Tahor case, right”

“Exactly.” She had heard about this case at every step of the way. Thirteen children of a fringe fundamentalist Jewish sect scarfed off to Guatemala in defiance of an Ontario court order. CBC had done a detailed story on them —even sent a crew to Guatemala—and was reticent to do another far less sensational one than the plight of thirteen small children in a cult. No one —even the international press, lawyers in Guatemala and Canada, or foreign affairs —has been able to get those children sent back to Canada. She had been told many times that it would even be less likely in Laura’s case. She was a Guatemalan citizen, had un-married parents, she wasn’t an infant but an imposing fifteen year old and her grandfather was well known and respected.

“So what do you want me to do?”

“You could pressure Foreign Affairs to do more. Speed up the immigration hearing. Have them make more visits to the school. Investigate the family. I am pretty sure that they are involved in something illegal there.” She paused. “Or you could get the government to pay for a good lawyer in Guatemala?”

“Let’s keep lawyers out of this for now. I am going back to Ottawa tomorrow Lorraine—can I call you Lorraine? —and the first thing I will do is get in touch with the Minister responsible for foreign affairs and the Ambassador in Guatemala.” He reached over and took her hand in both of his. “We’ll get your daughter home. But it is late now. Let’s go next door to the Irish Pub and have a drink and dinner and you can tell me more about your daughter —things that might help in her recovery.”

She almost laughed, but suspected that wouldn’t encourage his support. She knew that whatever he did would be perfunctory. There wasn’t much in this for him or for the party. His question was a good one though. She really didn’t know what she expected him to do. It was just that by now she was desperate and would grab at any straw that might help. What she wouldn’t do was grab at him.

“You’re so kind Herb—can I call you Herb? But I have a Trudeau rally to attend tonight.” She pulled her hand away and stood up. “You’ll let me know what you find out?”

“Absolutely Ms. Salmy. Robert will be in touch.”

“Good meeting Ms. Salmy?” Robert asked as she opened the door to the outside.

“Fine Robert. Thanks.” She looked around the room as she held the door open. “You know, I think I liked this place better as a liquor store.”

She did find a pub, but not the one next door to the constituency office. Her usual was the pub in the Garrison neighborhood where they served palatable pub food and fresh micro-brew beer. After her first gulp of winter wheat ale she broke into a fit of laughter and had to wave away the concerned server. They had not even asked for her cell number. The sobering thought was that she truly was at the end of her rope. There was no one left to help. She remembered the case of the other woman whose children were kidnapped. That woman hired some ex-military types to kidnap her children and bring them home. She figured there was some irony to that idea as she sat in a pub in the middle of an old military base turned into high end Calgary homes. Even if she had the money—which she didn’t—she had no idea where to find the types who would swoop into Guatemala and bring Laura home.

She downed her beer and waived for another as her phone rang from a Calgary number she didn’t recognize.

“Hello?”

“Lorraine Salmy?”

“Yes. Who is this? How did you get my number?”

“My grandson gave it to me. Do you have a moment to chat? In person?”

 

SEVENTEEN

 

April 14th 2016

We’re from the government and we’re here to help…

 

 

They pulled into the parking lot in a red Toyota Solera convertible that had the top down despite the mid April chill. The woman wore a matching red scarf and hat that kept her hair in check. He was clearly the older of the two and wore a salt and pepper cap that matched his tightly trimmed goatee. They were laughing at something as they extracted themselves from the car and the trunk lid popped open. She reached into the trunk and pulled out a pair of shoes that matched the car, while he hoisted out two sets of golf clubs and dropped them on the gravel. One set was minimalist—perhaps one wood, three or four irons and probably a putter. The other set was full of unblemished irons housed in a pink leather bag with pockets bulging from every side.

“One golfer and one non golfer coming through,” Randy announced to Melanie as he watched the unfolding from the kitchen window. He was too far way and they were not in position for him to see their faces. “I’d better go out and help them.”

Without looking up from the pile of paper that she was sorting through at the kitchen table, Melanie nodded to the 20 year old student she had hired for the summer. “Can’t they read the sign? The course doesn’t open until the May long weekend. Probably Americans. They think that golf is on as soon as the sun shines. Okay. I am going to keep working on these accounts. We lost tons of money on the concession last year. We need to charge more than cost recovery for those Bison burgers. And our golf ball bill was huge. More people than ever are scarfing off the balls. Maybe we need to make them radioactive or something?”

Melanie and Burt had run the Folly ever since her Father died four years ago and they had returned from Mexico. She had retired to the Folly after her last professional match in Florida in February Except for the Folly, with both Burt and golf gone, she had no long range —after sixty —life plan. With Burt’s legacy, her tour winnings and the money form the sale of the San Jose fishing cabin she would never have money worries. But it still bothered her that she and Burt could never make the place break even.

“Or maybe you need to quit worrying about it. When you hired me you told me it was never your Dad’s intention to run this place at a profit. Maybe now that you are running the operation rather than someone else it will be better?” They had hired a local as a course manager —unregistered golf pro he called himself— to run the Folly while they were on tour. He had apparently spent more time playing the course than on the books.

“Good. Because I was never intended to be a business woman.”

She watched as Randy abruptly stopped ten feet from the couple in the parking lot. The couple stood by the trunk with their golf bags.

“That’s strange,” she muttered. She squinted to see better through the spring, dirt crusted, window. “Shit.”

“Hi,” she heard the man offer as he walked to Randy with a large grin, “Name’s Richard and this is Mary and we wondered if we could get a tee time today?”

Randy accepted the handshake, walked over and shook the woman’s hand.

“Nice clubs Ma’am,” he offered as he hoisted the pink leather bag with a set of mauve coloured Pings. “Custom?”

“Picked them up on eBay.”

He stifled a laugh. “I’ll bet you did. But the golf course isn’t open yet folks.”

Melanie watched the man. He was perhaps a little over six feet tall, strongly built but with no sign of a volleyball belly so common in men in the sixty range. The black synthetic golf shirt he wore showed smoothly muscled arms.

“Oh,” the woman seemed somehow relieved. “Too bad.”

“Is the owner around?”

Melanie slammed the screen door to the farmhouse behind her as she strode towards them as they approached the first tee.

“Melanie…” Randy intercepted her. “These folks thought the course was open.”

Richard offered his hand.

“Richard Johnson.”

“And I am Mary, this idiots wife. I told him the snow banks still piled beside the road were a hint that golf courses were not open yet.”

Melanie almost laughed out loud. They get a lot of strange golfers at the Folly. Everyone wanted to try his or her hand at the course where the famous Melanie McDougal grew up. This couple had their own uniqueness. There was clearly twenty years difference in their ages, he around sixty and she perhaps in her late forties. He was clearly an athlete—or had been —and walked with a lithe stride. He was also very handsome with clear blue eyes above that strong goatee covered chin. She couldn’t see all of his hair because of some stupid looking cap, but what stuck out above his ears was a grey speckled black. She wondered if some company made a product that made a man look distinguished rather than dyed. The woman was dumpy and had a permanent stoop to her shoulders as if she had spent the last forty years hunched over a counter shelling peas. Her small hands were constantly drumming against her thigh. A chartreuse Nike golf hat mostly hid her hair, but with those close set brown eyes Melanie imagined a dried cornstalk brown of some sort.

“Well welcome anyway?” She turned to Randy. “Can you continue the fertilizing of the greens? Start with five today? I can take care of these folks.”

They watched as Randy walked over to the tractor parked nearby and with a tip of his I love Bumstead hat, he roared off to the fifth hole. Mary waited a moment before going over to Melanie and giving her a big hug.

“Sorry we couldn’t come to the funeral Melanie,” she offered. “It would have been just too dangerous for you if anyone connected us to you.”

Melanie had not seen Richard and Mary since the escape from Mexico four years earlier. “Is that why the subterfuge with the golf stuff?” she laughed. “You think you will fool anyone trying to golf in Saskatchewan in April?”

“Actually we are on our honeymoon,” Richard casually noted. “Headed to Calgary tonight for a meeting, and then Phoenix for golf —and other pleasures. Your course is just a reasonable stop along the way. Would fool anyone.”

“Sure,” Melanie laughed again as she hugged Richard. “If you say so. Leave your clubs here and come into the house for a coffee. Unless it is too early for that Botran that you and Burt were hooked on?”

Mary rolled her eyes. “God. I am going to have to drive again.”

While Mary gave the appearance of dowdy asexuality, she was actually a brilliant technician, one of the world’s foremost hackers. Richard had saved the MIT student from a life in an U.S. prison after she had won a hacker’s competition by hacking into Macdonald’s and the CIA. She fronted as Richard’s secretary, but was far more than that to the agency. She had always dressed in a way that people in the agency placed bets as to her actual sex. They called her Pat after the old Laugh-In comedy skit.

“Has Mary been busted?”

“No. And a boss taking a holiday with his secretary isn’t a strange thing. Apart from that fact that we are indeed married.”

Mary smiled for the first time since she got out of the car. They all walked down the narrow path through the cornfield to the farmhouse overlooking the first first hole.

“And all of this subterfuge was to come here?” Melanie demanded. “I assume you will tell me why you are here at some point?”

Richard was, in fact, the ‘Hotel California’ to Melanie. He was a long time friend of Burt’s and was the Director of a small, little known agency in the Canadian government. It ran from an endowment established by Pearson in the sixties so it never showed up on Government budgets. And it operated independent of politics. Richard had recruited Burt—Gord then— to the agency shortly after Gord finished his Ph.D. in Linguistics and trained him as an assassin —one of a handful of such individuals throughout the world that worked for the United Nations. All had regular day jobs—Gord was a Vice President of International for a small university in Ottawa— and only did a ‘job’ every year or so. He had fulfilled nineteen assignments over thirty years. His last assignment had brought Burt and Melanie together in Mexico. And after Richard and Mary arranged their escape, Melanie reluctantly agreed to participate, despite Burt’s and Richard’s admonitions about the ‘Hotel California’—“you can check into this role with the agency, but you can never check out,” Burt explained.

“Did you have to come in person?” Melanie asked as opened the screen door and ushered them into the kitchen.

Richard sat at one of the kitchen table chairs. “We honestly did want to see you Melanie. We couldn’t go to the funeral of course. And all of the subterfuge was to make sure you were not identified. We didn’t need a repeat of the Ottawa disaster.”

“That’s it?” Melanie intoned as she filled a kettle. “Just a warm and fuzzy condolence visit?

“There are some things we wanted to share with you in person.”

“You mean you have something you want me to do?”

“Maybe something you might want to do Melanie,” Richard interjected. “Get our drinks and show us your television set up. And yes. I’ll have some Botran with my coffee. You might want the same.”

Mary slid a small flash drive into the TV USB port. “Do you remember hearing anything about a kidnapping in Calgary a while back?”

“Vaguely. I don’t spend much time with the news these days. Never anything good. It was a family thing right? Father abducting child and taking her back to his home? I saw the mother being interviewed on the news one night. What about it?”

“You are right. It was a family abduction. And the child is with her Father’s family in Guatemala. It will be a long court process to get the child back. If she ever gets her back. All of that isn’t a new story. Canada is dealing with several of these types of abductions in various countries around the world. Some are easy to resolve. Like those involving a European country. Others like a current one involving Saudi Arabia are harder to solve. This case in Guatemala is on the hard side.”

“Why can’t the Canadian government just go and get her? She is a Canadian I presume? And what does this have to do with me?”

“On the first question,” Mary interjected. “Guatemala is very sensitive about extraditing any of it citizens. And in this case the father is saying his citizenship gives her citizenship. A ludicrous claim, of course, but the case will have to go through Guatemala courts. In addition, the grandfather is a wealthy—extremely wealthy— and influential U.S. Guatemalan businessman. We suspect he has bought whomever to make sure the child stays in Guatemala. If you had watched some of the newscasts you would have known that even CBC has visited the school where she is being held captive and reported that she is safe. They even suggested the school is better than the one she went to in Calgary.”

“On the second question,” Richard offered. “Watch this video.”

The screen clipped to the news story of the kidnapping. Melanie watched the video of Laura’s abduction and listened to the announcer explain that the police had determined that it was a domestic abduction and that the child was now out of the country. They also saw the interview with Adrian.

“This was only broadcast on the local Calgary network so while you might have read something in the paper about the kidnapping, unless you had Calgary TV you would have missed it. Do you recognize the child Melanie?”

Melanie was silent. Burt had used a false identity to become one of Laura’s Facebook friends. She recognized Laura right away from the many photos and videos of Laura that Burt had proudly shared with her. She nodded.

Richard continued. “We have confirmed that it is indeed your granddaughter —step granddaughter—and she has been taken by her father to Guatemala. We only picked this up because the President of the Canadian Federation of First Nations in Calgary made some high level inquiries in Ottawa about the father’s family in Guatemala. That lady has some connections for sure. Turns out she is the Grandmother of the First Nations boy that tried to save Laura at the kidnapping. Everyone was wondering why a First Nations activist leader was asking questions about Guatemala. At any rate we were making similar requests at the same time for a different reasons so Mary pulled up the videos and information on the child and this Kasikiskit woman and found the connection to you. Bottom line? It appears that once again your interests in family, and our interests in humanity, intersect.”

“What interest do you have in this? I never knew domestic disputes were in your territory? Who do want killed?” Melanie asked sarcastically.

Richard ignored her. “Watch this.” The video clicked to a high definition picture of a school. Richard talked as the video panned the school, the grounds around the school, the new house behind the school, the jungle around the school.

“This is the school where Laura is living. It is a U.N. sanctioned school for young girls from around the world who have been displaced by war, famine or other such pestilence. A special U.N. visitor to the school shot this video. It is privately funded, though we don’t yet know all of the donors. Mary is gathering all sorts of data right now, but it appears that Laura isn’t in any imminent danger although her father appears to have some influence at the school. And our contacts on the ground tell us that it is actually a good school — for most of the students. So don’t go jumping on your white horse and running off to Guatemala to save her. There is time for that.”

Mary started the video again.

The next video was grainy, like it had been shot from a distance and from a security camera through a window. It took Melanie a second to realize what she was looking at. The audio was in Spanish.

“Take your pick, my friend,” the woman’s voice offered as the camera showed a group of young girls standing around in what appeared to be gym shorts and tank tops. “The more white, the more expensive.”

Is that one—the one standing in the corner alone—Japanese?”

“Actually North Korean. Got her from some Korean business we had. She had been kidnapped from the border a year ago.”

“I’ll take her,” the second voice concluded. “Never been touched right?”

“She was in some sort of Korean convent. Only thirteen.”

The screen went black for second and then started up again.

“You wanted white, young and untouched. There you go.”

The video showed a tall, young white girl with dark hair and a dark complexion pacing back and forth, trying the door of a bedroom, and looking for a window behind some curtains.

“She looks Spanish, not white. And she doesn’t look like she will agree to all of this?”

“Part Guatemalan, but mostly white. Give me another month—and still pure—and she’ll be broken by the time you get her.”

Melanie didn’t immediately respond. She wondered how Burt would react to this information. Laura had been the only family part of his past life that he ever talked about. She had never missed having children herself, but could appreciate the wonder of family—especially grandchildren—as she grew older. This would hurt.

“How did you get this? Where is it?”

“When the first video came out from CBC —and her father’s Facebook—showing the bedroom that Laura was using at the school,” Mary offered. “By coincidence I was reviewing material we downloaded from a dark—deep web— pornography site. I recognized that the wallpaper was the same in both videos. We dug deeper and found this. For the first time, we are able to identify the location where the videos were shot. And we are sure it is Laura’s bedroom in Flores.”

“Do you know who the voices are?”

“The woman is a Canadian teacher at the school. The other we can’t pinpoint. Welcome back to the ‘hotel’ Melanie. We have been contacted to do a job related to this pornography operation. We were not considering you at all, but apart from your personal interest in this issue, you just happen to have the profile we need. You will be pleased to know that you have won a tender to be the designer of a new golf course in Belize. The client was intrigued by your success on the Champion’s Tour. The Belize government is seriously motivated to build a new tourist type golf course and the client is funding it. Mary has arranged everything. You will be getting a Fed Ex package tomorrow from the government in Belize with all of the accommodation and travel details. The first class plane tickets to Belize City are for Saturday. Three days. You are booked into an Eco lodge a few kilometres from the future golf course site and you will spend the next three weeks getting to know the client who has hired you.”

“If you have this information and this is going on at the school why not go in and arrest everyone? Get Laura safely home?”

“As the saying goes Melanie, that would chop off a piece of tail, but it wouldn’t get the head of the snake. We—now you—are part of an operation to get the head. In this case the server that is feeding the dark web this material. We cannot even go into Guatemala until that end of the operation has been successful. Our presence would warn the server hosts and they would just move the set up somewhere else and continue. Remember, we are not sure how deep this thing goes in the Guatemalan government. Who has been bought and so on.”

Mary pulled the thumb drive from the TV. “If you do your job right you will get information for us as we learn it, be invited to the school in Guatemala and bring Laura home.”

“Will I get any help?”

“There are some local federal agents who have been vetted. They will contact you when necessary.”

“That’s it? Nothing else? I just go and spend time with this rich guy and find out his deepest pornography secrets?”

“Kind of I guess,” Richard smiled. “Although there is one more thing. The target? He funded the school and is the President of the oil company that sponsored your last tournament. And he is Laura’s Grandfather.”

 

EIGHTEEN

 

APRIL 14, 2017

The devil is in the details…

 

 

“Look. She is doing quite well really.” Doughty interrupted his thoughts as they walked in the grey evening from the school to the villa after his return from the golf course site in Belize.

“She hasn’t tried to run away or anything like that?”

“No. She is been here for six weeks now and she is fitting in quite well with the other girls. I think she is ready to move into the dorm.”

After the first week she had been introduced to the school and the other girls, but she had been brought back to the bedroom at the villa every night after dinner in the weeks since.

“Has she asked any questions?”

“No. She just appears cheerful and cooperative. Look. Takes part in class. Seems to be a leader on the sports field. No problem at all.”

That’s a problem, Elesio thought. No one gets kidnapped from their home and then just accepts it.

“Where is her father?”

“I am told he is still in Korea.”

Elesio was annoyed. Laura’s kidnapping was his son’s initiative and like almost everything else he did it was in some way bungled. And he wasn’t a fan of recruiting young girls from North Korea. He didn’t trust the North Koreans. He had already decided that this would be his last visit to the school and Flores. He was passing the operation over to his son. He had never considered the concept of retirement, but at sixty he had to admit his interests, if not his body, were changing shape. He had passed on the day-to-day operations of Petrobuy to the Houston based CEO and his role now was mostly corporate relations. Sponsoring golf games, entertaining buyers and suppliers were now of more interest to him than spreadsheets. Life was fun and he was reaping the rewards of a lifetime of diligence.

Doughty interrupted his thoughts again. “Mason is waiting at the Villa.”

Elesio was surprised. “When did he get here?”

“Flew in on his jet this afternoon.”

“Why did he come? The Board meeting isn’t until the 12th?”

“Said he was on his was to a meeting in Nicaragua and just thought he would stop in for a visit on his way.”

“Not likely. Did he meet with anyone while he was here?”

“No. Just me when he arrived at the Villa a few hours ago.”

Elesio was increasingly uncomfortable with Doug Mason’s visits. Sergio had recruited him as both a donor and a Board member. This was his fourth visit in the past year, two for Board meetings and a previous one like this one where he just showed up. He simply didn’t like Mason or his business. The man was a lout. “Fat and ugly” were the terms one of the girls exclaimed on one of his visits, although Elesio never held anyone’s appearance against them.

“Another drink. Now!” a loud voice ordered.

Elesio winced as they walked through the front door of the villa. The man didn’t do anything gently.

“Well there you are my little monkey friend! Good to see you!”

Pedigree Mason was over three hundred pounds perched on a five foot six foot frame. Even with the air conditioning working overtime his face had a glistening of perspiration and his flowered shirt was soaked through in the underarms. He was sitting in on a bamboo-framed chesterfield that groaned as he struggled to stand.

“How are you Pedigree? No jilted lover killed you yet?”

Mason perceived himself as a great lover.

“And give up their prospect of this?” He opened his arms and looked down at his body. “Not a chance.”

He collapsed on the chesterfield, spilling some of his glass of Glenfiddich 23 year old Gran Reserva on his shirt.

Elesio and Doughty sat on the chairs opposite the chesterfield.

“My usual Lucinda, please,” Alvarez asked the Mayan woman who managed the food and drink in the villa. His was a Guatemalan Botran 23 year old.

“Me as well,” Doughty asked. Her usual was whatever expensive scotch the Board member was drinking.

“So how is business in Boston?”

“Never been better. No shortage of bearded assholes wearing scarves wanting to dump oil on the black market these days.”

Elesio and Petrobuy had entered into business with Mason one cold U.S. winter a decade ago when the price of oil peaked and there was a shortage of oil. He could provide them with good crude at two thirds of the spot market price. At the time Alvarez never asked how Mason did it, only that Petrobuy got the oil at a discount and sold it domestically at a premium price. Now that Petrobuy had the Guatemala monopoly it didn’t need Mason’s black market oil

“How about you? I hear that you have mostly retired?”

“Pretty much. Time to spend more time building golf courses and schools.”

“More like this one?” Mason smiled.

“Yes. Why you are here? Unless you want to be a true philanthropist and donate to the school I am building in Belize, this may be our last meeting.”

“So you can educate the next generation of revolutionaries? I doubt it. My business depends upon a world of uneducated, ignorant revolutionaries who need me to buy their oil. You keep it up and you might even defeat fundamentalism. That wouldn’t be good for my business.”

Elesio wondered how the donations to this school fit into that enlightened ideology.

Mason downed his remaining Glenfiddich and held his glass in the air for a refill.

After learning that the man was at the Villa, Elesio decided that this was a good time to tell him that one of the last thing he did as CEO of Petrobuy was to stop the purchases of his black market oil. It had been one thing when Mason routed oil from various minor rebel groups in remote corners of Africa. Or perhaps from legitimate, non-embargoed Middle Eastern countries simply selling above quota oil on the black market. But it was another issue when Elesio realized that Mason was now selling black market ISIS oil. Indirectly he — and Petrobuy—was funding terrorism. In Elesio’s mind there was a distinction between a revolutionary and a terrorist. His family had been revolutionaries that fought against the tyranny of religion. ISIS was a bunch of terrorists who were trying to impose it.

“Sergio told me that one of the new girls might be a Canadian?”

“You’ll have to come back when Sergio is here. The international girls are none of my business. And your oil is none of my business also.”

Mason was silent. He slowly downed the balance of the scotch.

“You think that you can just quit and your hands are suddenly clean? What? You hit sixty and suddenly found a conscience? Petrobuy will keep buying my oil or the world will know of Petrobuy’s long dealings with me. And I’ll be back for the Foundation board meeting. I’ll look forward to meeting the new girl from Canada.”

He pushed himself up from the couch and straightened his shirt and brushed some crumbs off his pants.

“Take care, my little simian,” he offered as he waddled out of the Villa to the waiting Lincoln SUV he kept parked at the airport. “See you on the 12th.”

Elesio sighed and sat down on the now, empty, abused chesterfield.

He had not thought retirement would be such a challenge. He had envisioned time that would be shared between his villa on a new golf course in Belize and his home on the course in Houston. There would be the occasional visit to his homeland and the original school, but visits only. He didn’t want to live here anymore. Belize was close enough and a much more relaxing and unthreatening environment. It had little history of Indigenous extermination, oppression or revolution —unless, of course, you viewed British colonialism as oppression. He didn’t. For all its faults, British and accompanying Church of England colonialism beat the Spanish and Roman Catholic colonialism hands down. So it would be Belize for his home and his next project.

Then there was his son. He had thought that he could just hand everything over to Sergio and he could retire to his pet projects. That wouldn’t work out. He was incompetent in the oil business so Elesio had to hand over the day-to day operations of Petrobuy to a hand picked CEO. Elesio could live with that. It was his son —the person —that he couldn’t shake. He wondered if it was normal to actually dislike your children. Sergio was the only one of his children that was legitimate and Elesio had decided that he did not like him. Yet he still coddled the boy. He supported his gambling, drug and alcohol lifestyle. He turned over the school’s international business to Sergio mainly because it was actually something that the boy was interested in and seemed to be able to do it well. And he had talked Mason into donating to the school and sitting on the Board.

Alvarez figured he had a few weeks to solve it all. Mason and the oil. Sergio and the school. The Foundation Board. In addition to Mason and two other donor-board members— a woman from Hong Kong and a man from Great Britain —, the Foundation Board included representatives from the UN Agency for Children, The Ministry of Social Services of Guatemala, Sergio and himself. The annual meeting was at the school in four days where he would announce his retirement as Board Chair and ask for their support for the new school in Belize.

But a granddaughter had never been in his retirement plans. He stood up. Straightened his clothing and pushed a wisp of hair off his forehead as he took a quick look in the mirror over the credenza along the wall.

 

 

NINETEEN

 

April 15,2016

Grandma knows best

 

 

“I talked to a friend in Foreign Affairs in Ottawa,” Campbell explained to her Grandson. “The Calgary police are pretending that they are still on the case, but they will be announcing soon—maybe even on the news at eleven—that this is a domestic issue. Their investigation has concluded that Laura has been spirited out of the country from Springbank airport by her father on a private jet. This is now out of their jurisdiction and they have handed the case over to federal officials who deal with such child abductions. If she was sixteen they wouldn’t even bother with that. The police will still look for the kidnappers and they can be charged with assault and kidnapping. But I doubt that they will look hard. Or find anything.”

“But I gave them a detailed description of the men? And the van plates?”

“Yeah. Well it appears that they have doubts about how you could provide such detail —cars, tattoos, hair colour, size and so on —from just the brief glance you had of them. Apparently they don’t hold much truck in concepts like eidetic memory. Probably can’t spell it, so they don’t believe in it.”

“Well, then the feds will get her back. Right?”

“Not so simple. It appears that while there are international treaties and protocols for such things. And while Guatemala is a signatory to these agreements that stipulate abducted children are to be returned to legal parents, it also appears that there is no enforcement of the protocol. It means that while the Canadian government will make a formal request to Laura to be returned to her mother, it is likely the Guatemalan government will politely ignore the request. In many ways it will depend upon how important her father and his family are in Guatemala —what influence they have in the country.”

“That’s where I come in Adrian, “ Lorne interjected. “I know the family. They are major shareholders in Petrobuy oil. It is based in Houston, but actually controls the Guatemalan oil industry. Transnational Oil here in Calgary has been dealing with them for years. And they buy their oil field equipment from a company in Edmonton. There is no way the government would ever go against this family.”

“What is Laura’s mother doing about all of this?”

“She has been meeting with foreign affairs people and she met with her Member of Parliament. I assume that she is well aware of the father’s family and its power. According to the media reports she is protesting to the police and the Canadian government to get her daughter back. The press did a small story, but doesn’t seem too sympathetic about these domestic cases and no one has yet really taken on her cause. She’ll need to get a good Guatemalan lawyer I assume.”

“She can’t afford one. Laura told me they hardly have enough money to pay the rent and buy basic groceries.”

“Doesn’t her mother have a family that could help?”

“Laura’s grandfather died in a house fire two years ago. He left her mother some money, which she used to pay tuition to go back to school and to pay the custody lawyer. That apparently cost a fortune. Laura’s grandmother is somewhere in Ottawa, but Laura never talked about her.”

“That is too bad.”

“So no one is going to do anything? Laura is lost?” Adrian would never cry in front of Lorne.

Laverne and Lorne glanced at each other. Laverne nodded to Lorne and he got up and stood at the picture window.

“Your Grandma and I don’t I don’t agree on this Adrian. But there is a way to at least see how she is doing down there.”

Adrian sat upright in the chair.

“Let’s do it!”

“Hold on. You don’t know yet what ‘it’ is. ‘It’ may not be a great idea. But here goes. Neither the police nor the Canadian government will —at least officially—send anyone down there to look. The consul in Guatemala will likely make a visit to the family to ask for her return and ensure that she is being properly treated. It will be a perfunctory visit and then nothing else will happen. However, the company I work for sponsors school and medical clinic building projects in every place in the world that has oil.”

“I remember that. You went to Cameroon last year to visit some schools.”

“Right. It is part of my community relations portfolio. And we often ask for Calgary community volunteers to go and help with the construction. Last year we had a group of volunteers from the business school at the Mount Royal University go to Cameroon. This year the company has coincidently decided to sponsor a school building project in a Mayan community near Flores, Guatemala. The group leaves in three days. What if you decided to volunteer for that project as a spring vacation activity? You still have your passport from our trip to the Dominican last winter. And it is in your father’s name —Foster, not Twobirds. A visa will not be a challenge with this type of mission,”

“How would I know where she is?”

“No problem, Adrian. As CBC has found, they aren’t making it a secret. And I have a friend in a special branch of the Canadian intelligence services that tells me that, for some reason, they are taking special interest in this case. He wouldn’t tell me why, but it might have something to do with the Grandfather. They have verified what the media has said, that she is at a school near the town of Flores, not far from the Tikal ruins. We have friends in the Mayan community there. The building project is in a Mayan village an hour or so from the school.”

“What do I do when I find her?”

Laverne interjected again. “I asked my friend in Ottawa why they don’t just go in and get her? Kidnap her back? They were pretty obfuse in the answer, but I am guessing again that there is something going on with this family so that the government—even our below the radar parts of government —don’t want to go near the place. What you do will be up to you —and our Mayan friends. My friend did explain that in countries like Guatemala that operate under civil law, citizens—and Laura is apparently considered a Guatemalan citizen—can’t be deported. Under common law—like in all commonwealth countries—citizens can be extradited or deported.”

“How does that help?”

“It means that if Laura was in a ‘common law’ country then the courts would likely send her home.”

“But she isn’t, so I still don’t see how that helps.”

“You will when you get there.”

“Okay. I’ll wait. Why can’t you guys go?”

“Activists like me are not welcome in Guatemala,” Laverne offered. “I’ve written too many pieces on the treatment of the Indigenous Mayan people in Guatemala. I would never get a visa, and if I did they would turn me back at the airport. Maybe even arrest me.”

“And I am too well known,” Lorne added. “I wouldn’t be able to surreptitiously find out where Laura was being held, much less be in a position to do anything about it.”

“But what can I do on my own? A sixteen-year-old Canadian—First Nations to boot—in a foreign country where I hardly speak the language? Grade nine Spanish will not get me far down there.”

“You will not be on your own. In the first instance, I know —even though my friend in CSIS didn’t say so—that the Canadian government will help somehow. They just won’t say how. But more importantly, we’ll arrange some help for you.”

“Who?”

His Grandma turned back to the window and crossed her arms.

Lorne talked to her back.

“He’s almost old enough Laverne.”

He turned to Adrian.

“At some point during your visit a local will approach you.” Lorne took a piece of paper and wrote something down. He handed it to Adrian.

“The person will say this word. You will repeat it. I know you have this memory thing so you should be able to memorize this now and throw the paper out. They will help you.”

Adrian looked at the word, pronouncing it slowly, then faster, as he handed the paper back to Lorne.

“Mide…wi…win. Midewiwin.”

 

TWENTY

 

April 18, 2016

Jesus saves…

 

 

“Time to get up,” a raspy voice yelled as Adrian was dumped from the hammock onto the swept dirt floor. “We have a school to build.”

Adrian got up on all fours and stared at a spider the size of his fist six inches from his nose. A cornstalk broom head replaced the spider.

“No big deal kid. It’s just a friendly Guatemalan tarantula. Harmless really. But they are one reason you sleep with the net over the hammock —and check your sneakers before you put them on.”

Adrian got to his feet shaking off the fog of sleep, remembering where he was. It had only taken a few days for Lorne and his Grandma to organize his trip as part of a charity school building project. At the Calgary airport he met the dozen other young people who had volunteered as they boarded the plane for the first of three legs of the journey—they had stops in Houston and Guatemala City before landing in Flores. Most of the twelve were university students and were sponsored by one church or another.

“Where are all of the others?” Adrian asked the man who had woke him up.

“They are all boarding with their respective religions. You are the only declared heathen, so I claimed you.”

Adrian smiled and watched the man as he moved over to the fire pit at the ‘kitchen’ end of the longhouse. The man was shorter than him and heavily built, but not fat. He was probably his Grandma’s age, although his ponytailed hair was still as black as the rocks surrounding the fire pit.

“Midewiwin. I am Sanchez,” the man had quietly offered as he greeted Adrian at the airport.

“Midewiwin,” Adrian had cautiously whispered.

The man smiled as he picked up Adrian’s bag and they joined the others at the eighties era school bus with Jesus Saves painted over the full length of the vehicle.

“Don’t worry,” Sanchez had consoled, as Adrian stared at the large purple lettering. “It isn’t contagious.”

No one said much to Adrian on the bumpy two-hour bus ride to the village. He had studied —and easily memorized —all of the maps of Guatemala he could find in the Calgary library and on line, so he knew where he was at all times. The village was 10 km from the Tikal ruins. And the ruins were one and a half hours north of Flores, the city where Laura was being held, so this location served his purpose well. The others on the bus were having some sort of competition to see who could sing the most righteous song. The Baptists were winning hands down he figured. Two young women volunteers—he learned later that they called themselves Pentecostals —didn’t participate in the singing. He thought of participating. He remembered some words for “Jesus Loves Me,” from when he visited his uncles on the reserve many years ago, but he didn’t think that was in the same class as the repertoire of this group so he just listened and clapped appropriately.

“Coffee?” Sanchez woke him from his thoughts.

“Yeah. Sure. Cream and sugar.”

Sanchez rolled his eyes as he handed Adrian a tin mug with a black unadulterated liquid slopping at the sides.

Adrian choked at the first sip.

“We grow our own coffee here you know. Pretty good stuff eh?”

“Not Starbucks. But it has a certain jolt for sure.”

Sanchez handed him a plate of beans and a tortilla.

“Eat this. You’ll need some energy today. There is a bucket in the corner over there to wash. The latrine is about fifty feet into the jungle. And there is bottled water in the bucket over there for your teeth. I’ll be back in a while.”

Adrian sat on a large stump that was conveniently placed in front of the small fire and cooking pit. He placed his mug on the ground and used the tortilla to eat the beans. It was dark when they arrived the night before so this was the first time he had actually been able to see the place. The building was a large open area, maybe seven hundred square feet. The hammocks—there were four—were strung between posts at one end, and the other end, where he was sitting, was mostly a kitchen area. There were shelves along the wall stocked with canned goods, some grey, dinted tins, and an unmatched collection of pots and pans. Plants of different kinds hung in an ordered fashion from the rafter. It reminded him a little of his uncles hunt camp. The walls were vertical planks, the beams were solid logs and the roof consisted of big branches and what he figured were palm branches. He wondered if that would keep the rain out? But his uncle’s camp was never this clean or organized. The floor was dirt, but swept as smooth as a piece of granite. The pots, pans, dishes and other kitchen items were clearly placed in some person’s vision of order.

“Ready to go?” Sanchez walked through the open doorway followed by two other people.

“This is my beautiful mother, Maria.”

She nodded to Adrian but kept her eyes facing down.

“And this is my troublesome grand daughter, Angelica.”

The girl ignored the comment and came forward with her hand out. “Nice to meet you Canadian. Come to save us have you?”

Adrian stood up and spilt his coffee. The girl —woman— was older than him. Maybe in her early twenties, but she had a hard look to her that suggested some experiences that went beyond childhood.

“Ahhh. Thanks. Yes,” he stammered as he shook her hand. It wasn’t a girl’s handshake. It was firm and Adrian could feel some roughness in her palm.

“Don’t let her get to you kid. She is really a softie.”

Angelica hit him on the arm. “I’ll show you who is soft.”

They laughed. Maria shuffled to the kitchen end of the house.

“I am ready. Let’s go get her.”

Angelica and Sanchez glanced at each other.

“Not quite yet cowboy. I think that we have time to brush our teeth and finish our coffee. Good stuff eh? And then we have lot of information to gather. So drink up. Brush up. And let’s start by helping to build a school.”

Sanchez’s house was on a small plot of land at the opposite end of the village from the school building site. As they walked, Sanchez explained that the village population was three hundred and fifty—give or take a planned baby or a surprise death— Indigenous Guatemalans. Depending upon the time of year in North America, there might be fifty church affiliated volunteers doing a range of jobs from teaching to nursing to construction

“Snow significantly increases the urges for North American philanthropy,” Angelica interjected.

The village consisted of a row of houses like Sanchez’s, separated by large gardens of corn and other vegetation that Adrian didn’t recognize. The only place that looked like a town had a community centre and a modern looking building with concrete block walls covered in slab siding and a tin roof.

“Pentecostals built that a few years back,” Angelica offered. “It will last until the first hurricane blows off the tine roof. If we are lucky the flying tin will just cut trees in half, not people.”

By the time they reached the community centre they had passed three churches. The closest to Sanchez’s plot was the Jehovah Witness building. Angelica gave a running commentary at each one.

“Do you believe they actually go door knocking around here on Saturday? And they wear those stupid white shirts and black ties. They are the smallest group in the community. Indians like to dance and celebrate birthdays. These guys are just no fun at all.”

The next was a garage sized brick building with a ten foot cross on the top.

“Baptists. Folks go there to sing.”

The one closest to the town centre was a building similar to the houses but with a crucifix on the roof.

“Seventh Day folks. They have the best preachers. They used to broadcast sermons from the states over large speakers so the whole village could hear. They had to stop when all of the hens quit laying and the goats quit giving milk they were all so scared shitless.”

“How many churches are there here?” Adrian finally asked.

“Six. The Catholics are next down the road and then the Anglicans. Catholics have been here since the first Spanish colonization. Most of the families here were Catholics once, even if they have strayed from the flock.”

“What are you?”

“Keynesian.”

“What? Never heard of that sect. Where is their church?”

“Don’t let her shit you kid,” Sanchez offered. “She came back from the states all smart mouthed. If we practiced anything we would be Catholic. Angelica’s grandmother still believes in that stuff. Angelica here figures she is too smart for all that hocus pocus.”

“The Catholic Church had committed unspeakable crimes against our people,” she hissed. “Spanish priests were the first Spaniards to touch our shores. But that wasn’t all they touched. All I can say it was a good thing they mostly liked little Indian boys better than girls. Kept our bloodline clear of those shitty genes.”

“Our people in Canada had our own problems with religious groups.”

“Had?” Angelica spat. “Seems to me your women are still disappearing and no one is doing anything about it?”

The school building site was next to a concrete block sided church with a six-foot sign on the roof with “Children of Redemption” written in foot high black lettering. A smaller building with the universal Red Cross symbol was beside it. The school was being built as the third structure of the cluster. All of the other volunteers from Canada and the village were already working, carrying rocks from the dry riverbed behind the church to the foundation site for the school building.

“Greeting friends,” a skinny man with pasty white skin and a wispy comb over greeted them with an outstretched hand. “I am Pastor Day. Welcome to the Lord’s work. You can carry rocks, or if you are good with a hammer start framing the roof joists over there.” He pointed to a pile of two by fours where three of the Canadian volunteers were sorting out lumber.”

Adrian looked at Sanchez and Angelica.

Angelica had her head bowed and didn’t look at the Pastor.

“We had best just carry Preacher,” Sanchez offered with a pasted smile.” This boy here needs to build up a little muscle.”

Day looked up and down Adrian’s six feet three, muscular, sixteen year old body. “Doesn’t look too out of shape to me. But suit yourself.”

They carried rocks the size of volleyballs for two hours. When they quit at ten for “tea and prayers” Adrian was relieved when the Pastor announced that they had enough rocks for the foundation. Sanchez and Angelica seemed non-plussed and were silent as they worked.

‘Why are we doing this?” Adrian finally whispered as they sat side by side on a log sipping some hot sickly sweet tea mixture. “I didn’t come here to carry rocks and drink tea.”

“Everyone else thinks you did. Just work today. We can talk later.”

The afternoon went slowly for Adrian, although the work went quickly. The rock foundation was largely in place and the roof trusses built by the time the Pastor called it quits for the day. Adrian said nothing as they walked the kilometre back to the Sanchez house. He sat by himself on a white, plastic chair outside of the door to the house while Sanchez and Angelica busied themselves with some chores in the house.

“Come for a walk to the river,” Sanchez ordered as he emerged from the darkness of the house. The late afternoon sun was warm and Adrian had started to dose off. “We can catch some fish for dinner.”

A well used trail led from the back of the house into the thick jungle, and after half a kilometre opened up to small landing on a 50 metre wide section of a murky river. Three inflatable kayaks were pulled up on shore.”

“What?” Adrian laughed as he touched the inflated body of the kayak. “No hollowed out tree?”

“You still fish from Birch bark?” Sanchez smiled as he pushed the kayak into the water. “Get in.”

There were already two paddles, and a piece of two by four wrapped with fish line lay on the bottom of the kayak. Sanchez got in the stern and Adrian took the bow. Once they were out in the water, Adrian could see that this stretch of water was bounded by two waterfalls, one upstream and, although he couldn’t see the over the drop, he could hear the one downstream.

“Don’t worry.” Sanchez saw the look on Adrian’s face.” We aren’t going over any waterfalls, although this river could take us almost all the way to Belmopan in Belize if we wanted. Tourists come from all over the world to shoot these inflatable things over waterfalls on the Belize side. The Moho River is a good waterfall dotted run from the highway all the way to the ocean. That’s where I picked up the kayaks. Did some guiding for them a while ago.”

“Moho,” Adrian closed his yes and thought. “That’s south of Flores isn’t it? It runs towards the Caribbean on the southeast corner of Belize? It looks like mostly jungle the whole way, and maybe forty or more waterfalls in the thirty kilometres from the road in Guatemala and the first road and village in Belize. How many days does it take?”

Sanchez was astounded. “How do you know this?”

“Studied the Guatemala topos before I came down. They were in the downtown library.”

“No. How do you know all the detail?”

“I have a good memory.”

Sanchez stared at him. “Three nights with tourists, but locals can do it from dawn to dusk. Or at worst an overnight. About the same trip as from here down the river to the Rio Mopan near the Belize border. I have told the locals that there could be good business in taking tourists down this river.”

“Maybe,” Adrian offered. “The waterfalls look bigger. But there is a small lake half way that could be a campsite?”

Sanchez looked up from uncoiling a segment of rope that was at his feet. “Good memory eh?” He threw the rope over an overhanging branch on the far side of the river. He took a square centimetre of raw meat from a plastic bag in his pocket, attached it to the hook and threw the line overboard. “We’ll just tie up here and fish for a while. It is a good place to talk.”

“We can’t talk on dry land?”

Sanchez pulled the jig line and flipped a white, shiny, scaled fish about twenty centimeters, into the canoe.

“We can,” Sanchez snorted as he straightened the meat on the hook. “I’m just more comfortable out her. Guatemala is a very different country than Canada, Adrian. Especially for the Indigenous people.”

“First Nations people in Canada don’t exactly have it sweet. Education levels low. Crime high. Discrimination still big time.” Adrian had heard all of the statistics from his Grandmother.

“Yeah, but I don’t recall reading about any efforts to exterminate Indians in Canada. At least not just culturally, but physically as well.”

Sanchez flipped a third fish into the kayak.

“Exterminated? I don’t understand?”

“It is a long story in this country Adrian. Angelica can tell you more of the historical details than me. She studied it all for her Master’s thesis. Goes back to the Spanish colonization in the fourteenth century. Unlike most of your ancestors—except for the minor exceptions that Hollywood glorifies—our ancestors fought back. There is a lot of Mayan blood still flowing in this river.”

Another fish was flopped into the boat.

“You are Mayan? “

“Mayan descent. Roughly half —no on really knows the exact percentage—of the population of Guatemala is of some sort of Indigenous decent. Although the Mayan nation was largely dissipated by the time the Spanish got here, there are perhaps 24 or 25 identifiable Indian groups—the Quiche, Garifuna, Xinca and the Ladina for instance —that remain. Nobody is ‘pure’ anymore, although there are some groups in Guatemala that insist their bloodline is unpolluted from the conquistador times. But in reality, the Spanish proclivity for bedding local women ensured a mixed genetic pool for generations to come.”

“Pro..cliv..ty?”

“They liked to fuck our ancestors.”

Adrian blushed. “Tikal was Mayan right? Are you all Indians? We don’t use that term in Canada anymore.”

“You are being polite,” Sanchez admonished. “You know how many waterfalls between here and the Mopan and you don’t know the history of Tikal? But yeah. And many other places yet to be discovered. Those ruins were only discovered in the fifties you know? As for the label, it isn’t as clear here. There isn’t any formal status designation as you have in Canada. As I said, people like me are just shades of non-Caucasian—Spanish— background. We don’t see the term Indian as necessarily derogatory, but Indigenous —indigena we call it—is probably a better descriptor since it refers to our ancestors’ rightful place in the history of the country.”

“Its confusing in Canada too. Only about four percent of the Canadian population is identified as Indigenous,” Adrian explained, quoting statistics he had heard from his Grandma many times. “But we have Metis. And rules in our Indian Act meant that when status women married a non-status person, they and their children lost their status rights. If the government changes that, then it could seriously increase the number of status persons, maybe double it. But like your ancestors, we existed before there were any national borders like Canada or the US, so we prefer the term Indigenous as well.”

“If I were you I would be glad that there is a border between you and the U.S.,” Sanchez offered as he pulled in another fish. “As I said, if you want to know more about our history you should talk to Angelica.” He pulled in as another fish. “This should be enough for dinner.”

Sanchez wrapped the line around the board and untied the rope from the branch.

“You still haven’t told me why we have to talk out here?”

“The treatment —mistreatment? —of Indigenous groups is a worldwide phenomenon created by European colonization. Africa, Australia, New Zealand South and North America all have varied histories of oppression and genocide, but all have resulted in a displaced Indigenous generation. The statistics your Grandmother tells you about Canada are replicated—many far worse— throughout the world. In the eighties a new generation decided to fight back. It was supposed to be coordinated around the world. We would all hit at the same time. Didn’t quite work that way. We were young and idealistic. Figured that our brothers and sisters would rise up with us.”

They were approaching the landing area.

“We? Who is “we”?”

“The Catholic Church did —still does—many abhorrent things in its search for lost souls. But one of the good things they did was send their radical priests —probably ones they wanted to get rid of—to Central and South America. They saw the oppression of Indigenous peoples and preached something that is now known as ‘liberation theology’. Many of the liberation theologists are well known and studied in North America even today—Alves, Fanon, Guteriez, and so on. But down here they schooled a generation of guerillas. The picked the brightest of their Indigenous students and sent them abroad for further study. The “we” was a group of these sponsored students from all around the world. We were all studying at a small College in New York. The same one that Angelica went to later. One of our colleagues was an Ojibwa from somewhere in Ontario. One day he described a secret Ojibwa religious society that fought a guerilla war against the U.S. colonization in the eighteenth century. We all smoked too much dope one night and swore blood oaths to the rebirth of the Midewiwin society, only this time on an international basis. We actually cut our palms and shook hands.”

Sanchez stopped the kayak thirty feet from shore.

“None of us actually believed that anything would come of the group, although all of us were committed to going home and implementing social reform for our people. But there were some that were more radical than others. One of our members died at Wounded Knee.”

“Where?”

“Hmmm. I forgot how young you are. It is hard to understand in Guatemala today, where celebrating Indian “culture” is the big tourist attraction, but starting in 1980, the Guatemalan government forced our hand. They decided they wanted our villages for large agricultural interests and implemented what we call today “tierra guemoda”—scorched earth. Over a decade the military razed over four hundred Indigenous villages. The burnt our houses, raped our women and killed our young men—fifteen thousand of them. It was a purposeful attempt at genocide of a race of people. Many escaped to Mexico and Belize. Many stayed and fought. And some of the Midewiwin from other countries joined us. Adrian, your mother fought with us in the early eighties.”

“Grandma fought here? What do you mean fought?”

“It was mostly guerilla type stuff —more of a nuisance to the government rather than a threat. But the eighties were not the fifties, the last time they tried to exterminate the Indians. This time there was no CIA backing and the world was watching. A peace accord with the guerillas was signed in ninety-five. But what I wanted to tell you is that in many ways, much hasn’t changed here. It is why she can’t come here anymore. If anyone knew you were her grandson you could be in danger. If anyone knew that I was still a Midewiwin, my whole family could disappear. And the wrong ears are everywhere today.”

“So the government could arrest us?”

“The government today makes a huge effort to celebrate and promote Indian culture. Lots of programs to supposedly help Indigenous people prosper. And they are publically chasing down some of those responsible for massacres in the eighties. But Indigena radicals still seem to just disappear somehow. I agree that it is confusing. In fact it is still much a mystery to me Adrian. But I don’t follow the politics of all of this as well as Angelica. She can probably better answer your questions.”

They paddled to shore and started to pull the kayak up onto the landing area.

Adrian glanced around at the jungle around them. “But what about Laura? When can we get her?” he whispered.

“Angelica will take a look tomorrow.” He tied the bow line to a small tree. “She will fill us in tomorrow night. Let’s go eat.”

 

TWENTY-ONE

 

April 18, 2016

Blossoming Flowers…

 

 

Four days after the meeting with Herb, she found herself looking for one of the new towers in the east village condo development.

The last time she had been in this part of Calgary was when she and Sergio decided —or rather Sergio, since it wasn’t her idea—to spend an evening drinking at the Cecil. Sergio and the other young men from Waskeegan Oil had called it slumming. They usually spent their evenings eating, drinking and looking for drugs somewhere on the 8th Avenue strip where an equal number of high end restaurants and the homeless guaranteed access to whatever pleasure was the flavor of the night. Boredom with the usual routine had sent them one night to the Cecil to see if they could find the Premier who was rumoured to dilute the effects of the stress of his own job with watery draft beer and second hand smoke. They never found the Premier, but ended the night —or the early morning—gobbling sweet and sour something in an all night Chinese restaurant on 10th Ave. The Cecil was now boarded up, the Premier dead, Sergio somewhere in Guatemala, and she now passed the still flourishing Chinese restaurant that flashed the same neon enticement for genuine Sechuan and Canadian Food…Open 24 hours. She wondered what genuine Canadian food looked like in the middle of the night.

Like a field prepared for planting, the whole area had been largely cleared of anything older than the internet and then, like a corn field, multiple story condo buildings sprouted straight up. She had walked from the bus stop at the corner of Macleod and 11th and since there were only three of these new cornstalks she figured she could find the right one. It turned out to be the one closest to the Chinese restaurant.

The heat of the foyer of the tower was a relief from the cool April evening. April had come in like a lion as it often does in the lee of the Rockies —the inverse of the regular February Chinooks. It had been snowing all day and at 8 PM the temperature was hovering around freezing. Lulled by the sunny days of mid April, she had come out wearing only a hoodie and a nylon shell. Laura had always reminded her to dress warmer. When the temperature dipped, she would get up in the morning and find that Laura had placed a winter coat, down gloves and a toque on the hallway floor by the door of their basement apartment. She stamped the wet snow off her boots, threw the hoodie back and searched the index of residents to find the right intercom button. She pushed Campbell-2003. She had agreed to come to the apartment rather than invite Adrian’s grandmother to come to hers. It wasn’t that she was ashamed of the basement unit she and Laura rented in Killarney; it was just that it was a mess. And she didn’t have the energy —or the motivation—to clean it. Laura had always been her motivation — her motivator perhaps. The efforts of the past two weeks had drained her energy. Her sense of defeat was palpable and debilitating. Now that she had run out of options to get Laura home she had resumed her schooling but with perfunctory participation. Her only motivation was that she only had to complete the two courses she was enrolled in to go get her Education degree. Laura would be very disappointed in her if she didn’t graduate. She really didn’t want to talk to anyone else right now about the hopelessness or the emptiness she felt.

“Lorraine?” the intercom asked.

“Yes.”

“Come on up. Twentieth floor. Apartment 03.”

The door to the inner courtyard buzzed open.

Lorraine couldn’t decide if the woman who opened apartment door was stunning or derelict. That was always the problem she had with women who let their hair go grey. In her mother’s day only poor, or derelict women didn’t use a hair colouring of some sort. Today it is some sort of beauty fad to go old hippy and leave your hair to its natural designs. This woman had thick grey tresses that flowed randomly over her shoulders.

“Lorraine,” she offered a warm smile and a two-handed shake. “Please come in. I hope you didn’t have any trouble finding our tower? Hmm. Your hands are cold!”

She couldn’t tell the shape of the woman’s body since it was covered in a shapeless kaftan covered with designs of animals—a moose, a bear, a wolf and some birds that she couldn’t identify. The smile was real and she instantly liked the apparent lack of pretense in the woman.

“Yes. I just walked from the bus stop on Macleod. It is little cold for this time of year though.”

“Come in and get warm. Can I get you a tea or coffee?” the woman asked as they walked down the short hallway to the combined living room, dining room and kitchen.

“Yes. Tea would be nice. Thanks.”

When they entered the room, Lorraine saw that they were not alone. A tall, lanky man dressed in jeans, a blue button down dress shirt and a sports jacket stood up to greet her. He was clean-shaven with long grey hair tied back in a ponytail. “Hi,” he greeted her with an outstretched hand. “I am Lorne. A friend of Laverne’s”

“Hi. I am Lorraine.”

“Green, oolong, puer or just plain black?” Campbell offered from the kitchen area of the apartment.” I also have some flavored teas from David’s. A Cream Earl Grey?”

Loraine knew her teas. She always drank a third steep oolong and showed her surprise at the choice from a First Nation’s home. “Ahh. Oolong would be fine. Thanks.”

“What did you expect?” Laverne responded to Lorraine’s reaction with a twinkle. “Rosehip? Or maybe Burdock? I do have some bee balm tea that is quite calming if you want?”

Lorraine blushed. “No, no. Whatever you have will be fine.”

“She is just teasing you Lorraine,” Lorne interjected. “She does that with her students. Pisses them off after a while. Please have a seat while medicine woman over there makes us some tea. We’ll make her drink the first steep.”

Everyone laughed as Lorraine sat down in one of the chairs in front of the coffee table. She had trouble focusing on Lorne as her chair gave her an expansive view over the city lights and the river.

“Nice view eh?” Lorne traced her glance.

“For sure. Yes. You can see the whole city from here.”

“And the mountains in the daytime.”

“We have a basement apartment. Not much of a view unless you like to watch the blue boxes that the landlord places outside of the basement window.”

“I guess you miss Laura eh?”

Lorraine tried not to cry at such a simple and kind question. She had done too much crying over the last weeks. “She is my best friend as well as my daughter. I miss her terribly.”

“I gather that no one has been able to help so far? But you know where she is?”

“Oh yes. I know where she is. Some division of the government —and the CBC—found her. She is with her father and grandfather in a place called Flores, Guatemala. About a hundred kilometers from the Belize border. Everyone seems to thinks that she might be better off there than with me. Foreign Affairs are doing due diligence, but only what the public would expect them to do. The bottom line is that without a very good and well-connected Guatemalan lawyer then I doubt I have much immediate hope of bringing her home. I don’t have the money for such a lawyer.”

“Can you go down there?”

“I’ve applied for a passport but it will be a while before it comes through. I don’t need a visa if say that I am staying less than thirty days and I am a tourist. No problem with the former, but they will know at the border that I am not visiting as a tourist but to take my daughter back. The lady I met with at Foreign Affairs said that since the case is so well known, and I am coming to take a Guatemalan citizen, they would likely send me back at the border if I tried to go there.”

“Here you go,” Campbell announced as she moved to the living room area from the kitchen with a tray holding an oriental style teapot and three small cups. “Milk oolong, washed and first steeped. I’ll pour.”

“What about the rest of your family?” she asked as she sat down beside Lorne and sipped her tea.

“”My father died in a house fire three years ago. My mother lives in Ottawa and could help I suppose. She never approved of Laura’s father and never really spent much effort getting to know her. Turns out she was right about the father. She has been sympathetic but has her own life to entertain her. She doesn’t say it outright but I think she agrees with the others — let Laura stay with her father.”

“So there really isn’t any normal or official route left for you to get her back?”

“Well there is the Guatemala lawyer thing, but apparently even that is a long shot. The Lev Tahor case has proven that.” She took a sip of her own tea. “Thanks for your questions and your interest, and the tea is good. Forgive me for asking, but why are you asking? And where is Adrian? I know he is almost as upset as me about all of this.”

Lorne and Laverne exchanged glances. “One thing at a time Lorraine,” Lorne offered.

“First, Adrian is in Guatemala,” Laverne announced.

Lorraine stopped a sip. “I beg your pardon?”

“Well, coincidentally Adrian is a volunteer on a mission to build a school in a small village sixty kilometres north of Flores. Just north of the Tikal ruins. Have you heard of those?”

“Coincidentally?” She raised her eyebrows and paused. “Sure. Right now there isn’t much I don’t know about the area. At least as much as Google and Wikipedia can disclose. Has he seen Laura?

Lorne took over the conversation. “The answer to the latter is yes. And before you ask, she is fine. What you have heard from the government is what he has been told by people at the school. She doesn’t appear in any danger and the school apparently has a good reputation. It follows the International Baccalaureate curriculum and has UN endorsement.”

“His being there isn’t a coincidence isn’t it? And there is something else isn’t there. You didn’t bring me here for tea.”

“No. Not a coincidence. We arranged for him to be there.” Lorraine started to speak. Lorne stopped her. “Before you ask, don’t ask. We just had a way of doing it and he wanted desperately to help. He is sixteen. Old enough to take his own path.”

“Okay. I will not ask how. Can I ask why he is there? Don’t tell me to build a school?”

“We can answer that,” Laverne intervened. “The boy’s heart was broken when Laura was abducted. He might have hopped on his bicycle and ridden there if we had not agreed to help. At first our only motivation was to indulge a young man that we love very much. The trip might help him grow up a little —see how another part of the world operates.”

“You mean it wasn’t really about Laura?”

“Mostly not at first,” she continued. “We had our own contacts in Ottawa that told us early on that your case to have her deported to Canada was largely hopeless. Adrian went there mostly for his own comfort, though we assumed that it would please Laura to see Adrian as well.”

Lorraine felt she had to be defensive. “What contacts do you have that I don’t?”

“The current Minister of Foreign Affairs was the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs during the negotiations for the new First Nations Education Act. Let’s just say that she owes us. We called in a little bit of that debt.”

“So you have said ‘at first’ twice now. Has something changed?”

“Yes,” Lorne offered. “The change in circumstances involves a mixture of Google, the Ministry—at least part of the Ministry— and Adrian. Laverne, pour the lady some more tea. The third steep is always the best. And Lorraine, please hold you questions until I finish. I’ll try and put it all together for you.”

Laverne poured the tea for them all. Lorraine just nodded.

“Okay then. I’ll start with the government. You probably know that the government passed a new bill last year —bill C51—that allowed extra levels of surveillance of individuals suspected of doing anything that threatens the country. The rationale was embedded in the current irrational fear of terrorism leaking onto Canadian soil. Our First Nations organizations all opposed the bill since it also gave indiscriminate powers to disrupt any legal protest movement. We do like to protest on occasion you know?”

He snickered and sipped some of his own tea.

“What you don’t know —and the public doesn’t know—is that there already was a clandestine government operation that pretty much had a free hand to look at anything digital it wanted to — with only Ministerial approval on a case by case basis. In the aftermath of the Snowden affair, the Minister was becoming increasingly nervous about this clandestine surveillance work and introduced Bill C51 as a safety valve, cover up type of mechanism should any of the work of this unit became public. They could just say it fell under the Bill and the public response would be deflected to the Bill away from any particular illegal surveillance event. Understand?”

“So what you are telling me is that there is bunch of geeks hovering over computers in the basement of the Macdonald Block watching everything we do?”

“Well, not quite. They are not in the basement of Macdonald Block. We don’t know where they are. Some think that the old underground Norad warning operation in North Bay has been repurposed for this, but we don’t know and really don’t care where it is. We assume they are indeed a group of people with advanced data searching skills. So yes, I guess they are geeks. But they don’t watch everyone, just those —who in someone’s eyes—have a reasonable likelihood of committing a crime. But most importantly for us, they are more likely to scan areas of illegal activity rather than individuals, fishing for clues as to who might be involved.”

“You mean like drug dealers’ phones and emails and such?”

“Yes. That’s the idea, except that no one who is truly bad makes much use of hackable phones these days and would never use the public Internet system to communicate. Have you ever heard of the ‘deep web’?”

Laverne shook her head.

“Your strategy to use Google to search for everything you could about child abductions, Guatemala, Flores and even Laura’s grandfather was a good one. I am sure you learned a lot?”

Laverne nodded.

“Well there is another collection of data out there that isn’t found by search engines like Google. Experts estimate that it is thousands of time bigger than the data available through search engines like Google. Most of the data is password protected and isn’t anything more than organizational intranets and data reservoirs in large corporations. They are accessed and used by ‘members’ but not available to the public. That is the ‘deep internet’—huge amounts of password protected data that can’t be found with an ordinary search engine.”

“I understand passwords. My bank has that. But you can find my bank page with a Google search?

“Good question, though you said you wouldn’t ask one. You have to find encryption software in order to find sites that use the same software. Essentially sites use the software to hide their identity or location and you have to use the software to find them. It isn’t quite that simple, but you get the idea?”

“Yes, I think so. There is a whole other Internet out there that most of us don’t know about. But so what? And what does it have to do with Laura?”

“Another question? I was getting to that. Sorry for the long explanation, but I think you need to know all of this if only to verify where we are with getting Laura home. As I said, most of the sites in the ‘deep web’ are defensible and appropriate—corporate data and business for example. But there is a subset of the deep web that isn’t so benign. You may have read about the U.S. shutting down the ‘Silk Road’ website last year? It was a deep web site where members could buy and sell illegal drugs. There are other sites that deal with the trade of illegal weapons. In essence there is a subset of the deep web that is called the ‘dark web’ where individuals —members of sites—conduct illegal business. The most heinous of those businesses is the trade in child pornography. There is a group of those “geeks” in a basement —or an underground bunker—somewhere that search for dark web sites that deal with child pornography. Once they find them they legally partner with the RCMP —and other international crime fighters —to try and infiltrate the site as members, find out where the server is, who operates it, who takes the photos or videos and so on. The nature of the business and the nature of the deep web make this very difficult, but about a year ago they did manage to gain membership in one such site. It is called ‘Blossoming Flowers’. It distributes pornography involving young teens—all under sixteen the site brags. The server is extremely well protected and no one has been able to locate its site, or to access membership lists. They haven’t been able to discern where the videos were taken, and despite sharing the faces of the girls though Interpol they have not been able to identify even one of the girls.”

“That’s disgusting.”

“I think we would all agree with you on that Lorraine. It is too bad that such people exist in this world. But you are probably wondering why we know all of this? After our first query to the Minister we received the perfunctory response that you have received from everyone. Yesterday we received a visit from that clandestine operation I mentioned — a woman who didn’t appear to have any title — and a man who is the Director of the operation. It was the woman who explained why they were there. Do you remember the video of the rooms in the Villa at the school that were shown on the CBC story on Laura’s abduction?”

“Yes. They told me they got them from some public U.N. video footage of an inspection of the school.”

“Right. This woman—Mary —watched that CBC story. She apparently has a special interest and had great sympathy for your story for some reason. She is also one of those geeks who had to watch the videos on the Blossoming Flowers site. I’ll leave you and Laverne now. I am just in the den when you are finished.”

Lorne got up from the chesterfield, paused and put a comforting hand on her shoulder before leaving the room.

“Turn around and face the TV,” Laverne asked. “Here is what she showed us.”

Lorraine clicked on the TV remote and then the apple TV and the sixty-inch screen over the gas fireplace screen came to life. The split screen showed a screen grab of the video made by the U.N. inspection team of the villa bedroom on one side, and a screen grab on the other from a video downloaded from the Blossoming Flowers dark website.

They watched three minutes of each video on the split screen, but Lorraine didn’t remember much about the U.N. video. The other video showed a young girl— Laverne said the RCMP decided she was likely in her early teens, maybe fifteen at the oldest—going about the normal business of getting undressed to go to bed. You could tell from the high definition video that she was dark hued, probably of some Spanish decent. There wasn’t anything exhibitionist about the actions, which suggested to investigators that the girl was being taped without her knowledge. The video switched to several different camera angles during the undressing video, telling them that wherever she was there were several recording devices. At the two minute mark the video switched to a bathroom where an overhead camera recorded her in a bathtub.”

Laverne froze the screen with the remote. “It isn’t perfect, but the bottom line is that the folks who do this type of video analysis say it is the same bedroom in both screen grabs.”

“I think I am going to be sick,” Lorraine announced as she ran to the guest bathroom off the front hall. “Turn it off. Turn it off.”

When she returned the TV was off. Lorne had returned to the chesterfield.

“Feeling a little better Lorraine?” Laverne offered.

There was a resolve in Lorraine’s look that had previously dissolved with the video. “Absolutely. You don’t have anything a little stronger than tea do you?”

Lorne got up from the chesterfield and approached a cabinet beside the fireplace. “I suspect that we have a little firewater around the place. Highland Park 12 year old okay?”

“OK. Above my pay grade for sure.”

Lorne poured them all a drink. “I am sorry you had to see that Lorraine. We figured it was necessary for you to appreciate the circumstances.”

“Which are exactly? That video wasn’t Laura. But is she involved in a porn ring? Is she in danger?”

“Well that is the most relevant circumstance,” Laverne agreed. “We both have children that are apparently in some danger. But I think that someone else should explain it all.” She nodded to Lorne as he sent a text message. “Finish your tea. This will only take a moment.”

Within two minutes a knock came to the door and then opened itself. A tall—over six feet Lorraine figured—grey haired man in his sixties entered, followed by a younger woman. She was carrying a laptop computer and both were dressed in dark suits. “Hi Lorraine. I am Richard Johnston and this is Mary Jones and we work for the Canadian government. Mary is the one that put the videos together. I am the one that is going to help you get both your children home safely. I’ll have one of those Highland Park’s if you don’t mind, Lorne?”

“Let’s all sit around the dining room table,” Laverne suggested. “It will be easier to see all of the material and have a discussion.”

“I’ll begin,” Richard offered as soon as they were sitting around the table. “Through no fault of their own your children are caught in the middle of a nasty little pornography activity. This is a relatively new dark site that we —Mary here along with the RCMP, U.S. cybercrime officials and Interpol —have been following for about a year. We have watched as the catalogue of young girls has gradually increased from one to start and now to ten. The latest—who we think might be a Mexican girl—is the one you watched and the one that Mary made the connection to the villa bedroom. Up until now we could find no connection between the owner/operator, server site location and the location of the shootings. Now we have the latter. Now I know your first question will be why don’t we just swoop down and close down the operation and arrest the people who are taking the videos? Good question. The problem is that all that would result is that the operator would find another location and be back in business within a week. Quite simply, if we want to shut the thing down —like we did with Silk Road—we have to work on the other connections. That will not be easy. Whoever uploads the videos to the dark web is careful not to send them to the server through the internet. We—and I mean every law enforcement agency in the world —has the capability of finding porn sent through the ‘ether’. That means in order to be most secure, someone has to actually physically carry the videos to the server where it can be uploaded and lost forever into the private memberships of the encrypted dark web. Basically we need to find out who is doing that couriering from Flores to the server and then follow them to find the operator and the server. Your children are in the right place to help us do that.”

“What about the Guatemalan police?”

“Another good question. We would need the Guatemalan government approval to swoop in anywhere in the country. Right now we are not one hundred percent certain of the bribery chain at government levels in the Perez government. The owner of the school…”

“That’s Laura’s grandfather,” Lorraine interrupted.

“Right. Elesio Alvarez is a very rich and influential citizen, although he is mostly retired now from his business interests in the country. We don’t know yet whether he is part of this. Or which government official has been bought off. Not only that, but there are active cartel gangs north of Flores near the Mexican border that might get involved if anyone tried a military type intervention. We—all agencies involved—think we need to handle this without the overt involvement of the Guatemalan government.”

“Overt?” Lorraine picked up on the statement. “There is non-overt involvement?”

“Yes. We happen to have some contacts in the area that will be helping. Helping both identify the courier and helping get Laura and Adrian out of the country. I am sure they will come up with a plan to ensure that there should be no danger to either of them. In addition we have a special person on their way to Belize right now to be in place near the school if they are needed.”

“Why Belize and not right in Flores where they can actually do something?”

“There are actually two reasons. The first I’ve already told you. We aren’t sure of the depth of involvement of government people in all of this. We would have to tell someone at some level that we had Canadian boots on the ground. We worry that would alert the people doing the videos and they would shut it down before we could track them back to the server. The second is confidential. You will just have to accept that the involvement of this special person with anything to do with your daughter would put her, you and the agent at great risk. We think using the local help will be the right route to ensure everyone’s safety.”

“What do you need me to do? Why did you tell me all of this?”

“Simple. We want you to appear to have given up on the quest to get her back. This will lull the operator into thinking the spotlight is moving away. The media attention must have freaked him out. If it is any consolation to you, we can’t imagine that the operator wanted the attention that came with kidnapping a Canadian, so he probably didn’t have anything to do with her abduction. So cool down the search and maybe he —or she—will let his or her guard down a little. Especially don’t try and contact Laura. When it is safe to do so, the local contacts will inform her of what is happening and what she can do to help. They have been sent screen shots of what you have seen here to help convince her at that time. But she can’t do anything to spook the photographer or the courier. If all goes well, we will be able to recover and destroy any video that is taken. Even if some is of her.”

“And Adrian?” Laverne intervened. “He is just a boy? How can he help?”

 

TWENTY-TWO

 

April 19th, 2016

Back to School…

 

 

Adrian carefully unwrapped the scorched banana leaf that Sanchez had removed from the coals.

He was hungry.

The second day of building had not been any easier than the first day. The tinned tuna sandwiches that the Pastor had served for lunch had not stayed with him very long. Peanut butter would have been better, he thought. He had already eaten a large plate of beans and rice while the fish was cooking in the banana leaves, and now he burnt his fingers in his rush to more food.

“It isn’t going to jump back in the water you know,” Angelica dryly admonished as she skillfully unwrapped her own fish and dropped in on the tin plate she had on her lap.

His own fish fell apart as he dumped it on his plate.

“Where did you go to school?” he mumbled through bites of spiced fish.

“Pepsodent.”

“Where?”

“The place was pretty much snotty white wasp, but they let in a few basket cases that the church sent them. Pepsodent was the name the few international students gave to our small college in New York. The nearest big time place was Colgate. That place would never admit mutts like us so it was Colgate…and we were Pepsodent.

She started to sing off key. “You’ll wonder were the yellows went when you go to school at Pepsodent. The university President hated it.”

Adrian watched her eat. She was short—maybe a bit over five feet. She was clearly Indigenous of some sort, though after his chat with her father on the river he wasn’t sure if she was Mayan. She had a dark complexion and a wide forehead over eyes that seemed too far apart to focus. Her nose was different than her fathers. While his was pug like—at home he might have looked like a retired boxer—hers was sharply pointed. He knew she was much older than him—probably in her twenties—but he felt oddly attracted by her mannerisms and attitude.

“What did you study?”

“Got a degree in economics,” she answered with a full mouth of fish. “Thought I would go into banking. Then I did a Masters in History.”

He was never sure if she was kidding him or was serious. She didn’t strike him as the banking type.

“What are you going to do now?”

“I’ve been teaching at the old school and will continue at the new one we are building.” She finished her fish and put her plate in a bucket of water by the fire. “You didn’t get the Pepsodent thing did you?”

Adrian didn’t think she looked like a teacher. “I liked your singing though?” He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to say. He knew Pepsodent was toothpaste but he didn’t get the yellow part. All he wanted to do was find out about Laura. He put his own plate in the bucket.

Adrian leaned back in the hanging basket chair, sipping his steaming coffee as Sanchez and Angelica scurried about doing the business of the house. Angelica helped her Grandmother wash the morning dishes. Sanchez brought in some kindling and piled it by the fire pit. He marveled at the natural organization of the home. Even as professionals now living in Guatemala City, and visitors to their family home, each knew their responsibilities. As a guest they tried to leave him out of the daily chores, but he insisted on helping. There wasn’t the same kind of domestic role clarity in his Grandma’s city condo. Loading the dishwasher didn’t seem to carry much novelty next to the daily dishwashing routine here.

He had quickly taken the role of the water fetcher. When he arrived he watched as the Grandmother shuffled to the standpipe fifty metres down the road and carried the white plastic pail containing the morning’s water back to the house. The first morning he picked up the container before anyone could ask and joined the other village women in the short line waiting for their turn to fill their buckets. He nodded and smiled at the stares and the chatter of the collection of grandmothers gathered at the standpipe. When he got back with the water he thought everyone would be pleased at his initiative, but the grandmother was clearly agitated. “Don’t go to the water without Grandma tomorrow,” was all that Sanchez offered. Each day since then they had gone together. She would occasionally point out something on their short walk, but his Spanish wasn’t good enough to understand everything. She turned all animated smiles when she got to the standpipe, gesturing at him and eliciting laughter from her friends. The third day one of the older women pointed to her plastic pail and Adrian carried it to her home while ‘his’ grandmother filled her own pail. By the end of the first week he was carrying the pails and the buckets to the homes of the seven grandmothers who met at the pipe each morning. By the end of the week he went to their homes while they stayed chatting. When they left they each gave him a hug and a “Gracias bebe.” His Grandma took his arm and smiled all the way home. They had just finished their morning water ritual and Grandma brought him his coffee as he watched everyone go about his or her own domestic chores.

“So, can we go see Laura?”

“Sit down Adrian. I know that you are anxious to get your friend. But you need to understand this isn’t Canada. You kids come down here and stay few weeks and see everything through your Canadian eyes. You hammer and you nail and sing hymns and leave feeling good about yourself. Don’t get me wrong. We are grateful for any help we get. It wouldn’t be a big government priority to build a school in an Indigenous community like ours. But after you leave we are still left with the system.”

“Why don’t you just elect a more Mayan friendly government?”

“Ahhh. Those Canadian eyes again. We are called a democratic country today, but like most Central American countries, that democracy is both a little fragile and a relatively recent phenomenon—at least relative to where you come from. Here’s a little history for you you. First. The government. Until after the Second World War countries like Guatemala were pretty much run by the old Spanish families, their agricultural businesses and the church. After the war, free elections were instituted, and for the first time in the country’s history there was hope —hope for education and health for all. Legislation permitted the right to strike for the first time. And most importantly land reform gave Indigenous farmers ownership and control over their farms. My Great Grandpa and his friends called the decade after this the ‘Los diez anos de eterna primavera’—ten years of eternal spring. Then in the early fifties, the large corporations like the United Fruit Company and the International Railway of America decided that these reforms were not good for the bottom line. And since wealthy Americans mostly owned that bottom line, the CIA helped overthrow the elected government and install a right wing dictatorship. During the next forty years a quarter of a million Guatemalans —mostly Indigenous—were killed in the various ‘scorched earth’ initiatives as Gramps told you about earlier. The democracy you see here today is less than twenty years old. In many ways the country has gone back to the pre forties time. Essentially, six or seven families run the country today, and life is good as long as their candidates are elected. Opposition to the government is only tolerated at a level that allows international approval.”

“You mean what YouTube and Twitter allow. Right?”

“Right.” She nodded to Sanchez working at something in the corner of the house. “Gramps there doesn’t quite get that the social media can actually win more than battles than Semptex.”

“Sem…what?”

“Boom!” she gestured with her hands.

“Haven’t used that stuff for thirty years, girl. Got modern,” Sanchez laughed between his own bites of fish. “Young people today think that they can change the world by sending the world a selfie of them dumping a pail of ice water over their head, or posting a protest manifesto of some sort to their Facebook. You have that Facebook thing kid?”

“Yeah. All my friends do.” He didn’t tell them that all he ever posted were hockey photos and stories.

“At any rate it is tougher for any government anywhere to get away with nasty things,” Angelica continued. “Of course it is mostly the kids of the rich and famous here in Guatemala that actually have iPads and DSL connections. And IP addresses that send out anti government truth are quickly dug out. My Dad was one of the first to use Internet power to bring the world’s attention to government corruption.”

“Where is he now?”

Angelica and Sanchez were both quiet for a moment.

“Disappeared four years ago,” Sanchez quietly offered.

“Government claimed he drowned while fishing.”

“What about the police? If you think something wasn’t right won’t the police investigate?”

“Ahhh. The second part of your lesson. The legal system. Most ex colonies in the world continue to operate under the legal system of their progenitors.”

“Pro…what?”

“The country that colonized. England and France colonized Canada, so you have a combination of French and English common law. In Central America, Belize was a British colony so it operates today under British common law. Guatemala was a Spanish colony so it operates under a form of Spanish civil law.”

“So what? The law is the law isn’t it?”

“Well I am not a lawyer. Just studied a bit at school But one simple difference is that in Canada you are innocent until proven guilty. Here you are guilty until proven innocent. In the past this has allowed the military or family controlled police forces to arrest people who they claim are guilty of something and then hold them for a long time. I don’t think Dad drowned. He could swim like a fish. And in the forty-year revolution many just disappeared. My mother was one of them.”

Angelica stopped talking and looked at her lap. Adrian wanted to hug her.

“Sorry,” was all he could think of saying.

“I never met her. But Grandpa says I look just like her. Every family around here lost loved ones.”

“Thanks for telling me all of this. But what does it have to do with Laura?”

“I’ve checked out the school. I saw her I think? Tall? Athletic looking? Long, curly black hair?”

Adrian sat up in his chair.

“Yes. Is she okay? How did you manage to see her?”

“Mayan cleaning staff is largely invisible to their employers. We just hang our heads and scrub. I joined the cleaning staff for a day and as far as I could tell she was fine. She has attended classes with the other girls and seemed to be enjoying the pick up soccer games in the field.”

“So she is free to leave you think?”

“That’s a complicated question Adrian,” Sanchez interjected. “All of the girls are apparently free to leave. Several have run away and we managed to save some of them before either the bandits or the jungle got them. It appears that they just want to get back to their old life in the city. So they are free to leave but there really isn’t anywhere for them to go.”

“I was student there the year it opened,” Angelica offered. “The school’s owner has Mayan ancestry and he sponsors promising young women from the various villages around the area as well as girls from tough circumstances and histories in the city. This work is quite honorable and welcome. I would never have been able to get an education in a local school that prepared me for university.”

“This is good then? Laura is okay? I can go there and talk to her and take her home. I am sure she doesn’t want to stay here. We have a good school back home.”

“Not so sure,” Angelica continued, “While she goes to school each day, she is locked away each night in a bedroom in large villa located between the school and the jungle. I doubt that her Grandfather is just going to let her go after the effort they made to abduct her.”

“What about her father?”

“None of the staff I talked to know where he is or when he will be back. But I can tell you they don’t think much of him for some reason. I asked why, but everyone just shook their head and was silent.”

Sanchez pulled some paper from his green army style canvas backpack. “Then yesterday I got this in a package of mail.” He came over to the fire and handed two pieces of printer paper to Arian.

Adrian studied one and then the other. One was a screen shot of a bedroom. The shot was taken from a wide-angle camera and showed an empty, made up double bed, the wall behind the bed and the faux painting on the wall above the bed. The other showed the same scene but with a young women in her underwear lounging on the bed. He blushed. He had seen pornography before. It was always being passed around the locker room. He showed the interest that was expected of him by the other players, but his Grandma had already talked to him about the exploitation thing, so he tried not to gawk. Seeing something like this in front of adults was embarrassing. He quickly handed the paper back to Sanchez. “What is this? Why are you showing me this?”

“One of the girls that ran away last year had been ‘adopted’ from Argentina. She said she had no family left there so we helped her make contact with a group there who could help her find a new home. This is a photo of her.”

“She posed for porn? How old was she?”

“She was thirteen. And no. We are sure she never knew that she was being filmed.”

“Where did you get these shots?”

“Sanchez didn’t answer. “It appears that someone is using the villa as a child porn site. It is likely only with the dozen or so international girls since they are the only ones that stay in the villa.”

“Child pornography? Laura is in this Villa? Is this legal in Guatemala?”

Sanchez laughed.

“No. Our government and the rich families have many faults, but such degradation isn’t one of them. No. This is pretty much a solo private operation. The rich folks in Guatemala City would be horrified if this ever became public.”

“Public? They know about it? Why don’t the police just stop it?”

“This seems to be new operation, so I am not sure that the police know about it yet. Even if they did, Laura’s grandfather is very rich and very influential. His old company has the oil monopoly for this part of the country. His arrest could topple the fragile Guatemalan economy, not to mention the country’s reputation. I imagine he knows things about the big families that they don’t want public. He’s also has dual Guatemalan-U.S. citizenship. The government would probably need approval from someone in Washington before doing anything. He is sixty, so I guess everyone just hopes he will die a natural death and the government can take back control of both their oil and their morals.”

“Is Laura…?” he couldn’t finish the sentence. Something ached inside as he thought of Laura.

“Don’t know, but I doubt it,” Angelica consoled him. “I don’t think even her grandfather would be vile enough to sell movies of his granddaughter. But she is in the villa.”

Adrian stood up. He had heard enough.

“Let’s go get her. Tonight.”

Sanchez and Angelica looked at each other.

“Not that easy kid,” Sanchez finally said. “There are a few challenges. First, the place is heavily guarded. His son —Laura’s father— pays a lot of money for the border gangs in the jungle to provide protection for the school and his house. There are anywhere from five to ten armed men camped at night in the jungle around the compound. Not many girls can slip through that, and not many of us could slip in. This must be a fairly profitable venture for him to put such protection in place.”

“I could get through I am sure,” Adrian offered.

“So could we, but then what? The second challenge is that right now your girlfriend doesn’t look like she wants to leave. On the surface this is a pretty good school—topnotch facilities and teachers. And there are girls from all over the world to have as friends. She might not want to go with you?”

“I’d just tell her what is going on.”

“Might work. But there is another challenge. As I said, the school is run and operated by a very influential guy. Even if you got her out of the school his contacts and influence would make it impossible for you to get out of Guatemala.”

“I’d get her to the Canadian embassy. They would take care of us.”

Angelica and Sanchez looked at each other.

“We’ve been in touch with some Canadians who tell us there is another way,” Sanchez explained. “A better way for everyone. But we have to wait a few weeks to do anything.”

“Wait here?” Adrian was incredulous. “While Laura is held captive in a porn house?”

“Look at it this way kid,” Sanchez deadpanned. “You can learn how to build a school.”

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

 

April 22, 2016

Let’s make a plan…

 

 

“What the frig am I now supposed to do with half a million barrels of Iraqi crude?” Mason yelled into the other end of the phone.

It took several weeks of organizing, but Alvarez had made true to his announcement that he was to cutting off Mason’s oil.

“That’s your problem. I didn’t tell you to buy terrorist oil.”

“It never bothered you before you freaking little monkey. You think that you can just change your mind and leave me in crap?”

Elesio knew how it worked. Men like Mason bought the illegal oil cheaply, sanitized it by mixing with legitimate imports and sold it for a significant profit. The problem for people like Mason was that the amount of money involved meant that he had to sell before he could pay the crooks supplying the dirty oil in the first place. Previously most of the ‘dirty’ oil came from a corrupt supplier or a third world government sanctioned by the U.S.. Elesio had laundered much of it through Petrobuy. The profit was too good to pass up. But now the oil that Mason was trying to hawk came from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria where the terrorists had seized Iraqi oil fields and were selling the oil to fund their conquest.

“These are terrorists Mason. They are killing thousands of people with weapons they buy with your money. It will not be my money.”

“Since when did you give a rats ass for some straggly bearded, shithead who figured he would have all the virgins he wanted when he died?”

Elesio held the phone away from his ear as Mason roared with laughter at his own joke.

“They are killing thousands of women and children Mason. Doesn’t that bother you?”

“Why should it? They aren’t Americans. Let the Suns and Shits or whatever they are called killed themselves all off. The world will be better without them all.”

“I told you when you were here last month. I am out Mason. Petrobuy will not buy any more of your oil. There are others that will take your booty.”

“Sure, but none as large as Petrobuy. Or with the means to launder the stuff.”

“Petrobuy isn’t interested.”

“We will see monkey. We will see.

The phone went dead.

Elesio put his own phone down. He used old-fashioned landlines to connect with clients for all of his fringe businesses. The house on Lake Petén in Flores had several such lines. Ironically the landlines were more secure these days than either cell or satellite, since so called spy agencies in almost every country were tripping over themselves to develop the most sophisticated digital listening devices —as well as software —that would analyze the airwaves for any keyword they wanted. In essence every cell phone call that anyone makes anywhere in the world is being listened to or monitored by someone somewhere. No one appears to be bothering with old-fashioned landlines. So he did his legitimate businesses by digital means—cell and satellite—and the less legitimate ones by secure, easily scrambled landlines. He had bought up the buried and undersea cables that were laid in the sixties to link a growing Central America to an investing U.S., and these now provide his own telephone system to the states. While Petrobuy certainly had a very active and visible social media presence, he personally had no Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter or any other Cloud presence. He only participated in communication channels he could control.

Between his visits to the golf course site in Belize he had stayed in the Flores house over the last few weeks. While it wasn’t as large as his Houston estate, the three level house was comfortable and adequate. It comprised mostly of a large open space surrounded like the spokes of a wheel with the kitchen and four bedroom suites. A floor to ceiling window overlooked a deck and the lake.

He forgot the challenges with Mason as he thought of his last visit with Laura. It had started awkwardly.

“How do you like the school?” he asked to get a conversation started.

Lucinda brought them each a fruit drink. They sat in the same place they had on the first meeting.

“Fine.”

“What’s your favorite subject?”

“Do you really care?”

“Indulge me.”

He wasn’t sure he did care. But the girl was here so he figured he had better show a little interest.

“What’s with the uniforms? Schools aren’t the army you know. They should be places of individuality, not conformity.”

All of the girls were required to wear a school uniform. The nuns at the Catholic school he attended would have approved. The skirts—a dark blue—reached over the knees as far as the calf length grey knee socks. Even the shoes were black rubber soled lace up oxfords like the kind that would be worn by Vatican nuns. The top, the only concession to the local culture in the attire, was a white full cotton short sleeve pullover top similar to the kind of top worn by most women in the country. He had not made the rule and certainly had not meant the school to look like a Catholic boarding school, but had never thought of the uniform as a bad idea.

“Almost all of the girls here come from very poor families. They can’t afford to be part of the clothes fashion race that consumes young girls your age in North America. The only thing that should separate one girl from the other here is there talent and effort. Not their fashion tastes.”

“I think clothes are way to express your individuality. Not all statements are fashion statements. In Canada we have kids that dress up as Goths. Some come from farms and wear jeans and cowboy boots. One of my friends is Muslim and wears a Burka. My best friend is First Nations and he sometimes wears a beaded shirt. Sure, some of the girls—and guys— do the fashion thing, but that is their individuality. All the private schools in Calgary have uniforms, but they all just look snooty. They wear them to tell everyone else how rich and special they are not to go to a public school.”

“What do you wear to express your individuality?”

“I guess I am kind of jock person. Mom can’t afford much in the way of clothes for her or me. So runners, loose jeans, sweat top. That sort of thing.”

“A jock eh? What’s your sport?”

“Hockey and soccer. I’m a goalie.”

“ I was a pretty fair football—soccer—player in my day. Maybe we should go out to the playing field one day and see how good you are?”

He wasn’t sure if the look she gave him was skepticism or revulsion. But the idea did not seem to appeal to her.

“You haven’t told me your favorite subject?”

“My favorite subject? How about why I am here? And why did you have to kidnap me? Never hear of just buying a plane ticket?”

He had the logistical answer to the kidnap part. There was court order requiring her mother’s permission for her to leave the country. Her mother wasn’t going to give permission for her dad to take her to Guatemala. He wasn’t sure he totally understood why his son was doing what he was with this girl. He couldn’t tell her that Sergio was intellectually unbalanced. From an early age he had anger problems. As a child he abused his nannies. As a teenager he was a bully in every school Elesio sent him too. As a young man, with all of the good looks in the family, he had a string of lovers that he abused. Elesio had paid off many young women and more than one court to ensure that Sergio didn’t go to jail. He had sent him to Canada to see if a new environment would help.

“The courts gave custody to your mother. She would never have let you come.”

“When can I go home?”

“I am just your grandfather Laura. You father has to decide all of that. He’ll be back from a business trip in a week or so. Just enjoy the school in the meantime.”

She paused and finished her papaya drink.

“Chemistry.”

“What?”

“Chemistry. My favorite subject is chemistry.”

The next night Elesio had dinner brought to the Villa. He had also arranged for a pair of fashion jeans, runners—powder blue Nike Blades— and a Roots sweatshirt waiting in her room when she got back from school.

She came out of the room to meet him in her school uniform.

“I thought you were the jock type? Didn’t they fit?”

“I guess. Didn’t try them. If I wear them will I be doing what you don’t want? Setting myself up as different? Appear more privileged than the other girls? They don’t have someone shopping for them in Houston do they?”

Next time he would make sure the labels were removed. He had forgotten what it was like to live your life by a set of immutable values. His parents had lived —and died—by their values. And he had done the same as a young soldier, even if those values were warped. The corporate values had replaced the social values long ago. He wondered which values would fill his retirement life.

“You think everyone should be equal? Is that the Canadian way?”

“I think everyone should have an equal opportunity to be equal. That is the Canadian way.”

He had heard that ideal expressed many times in his life. She reminded him of his mother. “Don’t you think that other places in the world can have that ideal as well? Did your father ever tell you about his grandparents?”

“I don’t remember him telling me anything. He wasn’t very interested in me.”

That was good thing, Elesio thought.

“They were both teachers. And revolutionaries. And both died fighting for the ideal you think is so important. Has anybody died for that ideal in Canada?”

“Sorry. I didn’t know. How old were you when they died?”

“I was only eight when my father disappeared and my mother went away. But I remember.”

“What happened?”

“The police came into the office of the farm co-operative union where both my parents worked. She was Mayan from the north and he was from a prominent Spanish family. They met when he was a teacher in her village. He recognized her intellect, sponsored her to the Teachers’ College, married her and they moved to Guatemala city. His family never forgave him, first, for being a teacher when they wanted an officer in the military and second, for marrying an Indigenous woman. That was quite a taboo in those days. But they especially never forgave him for his politics. He sided with the unions against the big families and they were one of those families, so he was brought in for questioning. I never saw him again.”

“What happened to her?”

“She went back to her village and died in 1982.”

“What happened to you?”

“My uncle took me and raised me—with his values. I was a young soldier when the “eternal spring” ended and the guerilla war started.”

“Eternal spring?”

“Just term used to describe some good years in Guatemala.”

“I thought you were a businessman?”

“My heritage and physical shape were always an embarrassment to my uncle, so I tried to please him as a soldier. I did that for five years. When my commission ended they sent me away to the states—Houston actually—to work for an oil company. He died while I was working my way up the corporate ladder. He left me a small legacy so I invested my own money in the company and the rest of my business life is public record.”

Well not all of it, he mused.

“It wasn’t until the peace with the Guerillas in the early nineties that I learned all the details of my parents life. I started this school in memory of my mother. My father gave her a chance. I am giving a chance to many other girls like her. Laura,” he paused. “You should know where you come from.”

On another night they went for a walk.

This time no guard emerged as she walked out the school gates and towards the dorm and the town.

“Did you ever know your mother’s family Laura? I met your mother twice you know? Once here and once in Calgary.”

“I remember you visiting Calgary once, but was she was here?”

“Yes. She was part of a school building team from Canada and Petrobuy was sponsoring the materials. Sergio and I visited the site. I would hardly have remembered her except that your father chased her to Canada. She was taller than the other girls, with curly blond hair. She had blue eyes like yours. She was quite beautiful if I remember?”

“Still is.”

Elesio decided that was enough talk for one day and they walked the rest of the way in small talk silence. He took her over to meet his old burro. He gave her some sugar cubes and some carrots and she laughed as she fed the old animal and it wheezed and nudged her hand for more. He had to promise her they would come back and feed the animal every night.

“See ya,” she said as she left him on the front stairs of the villa. He stood for a moment and watched as she turned and walked up the stairs and closed the door behind her without looking back. “At least the old burro approved of her,” he chuckled as he turned and started the walk back to the town and his Lake Petén house.

TWENTY-FOUR

 

May 8, 2016

Laura at school

 

 

“Some visitors are coming in a few days,” Elesio announced as they turned a corner on the rutted road and walked out of view of the villa. “Some board members.”

Over the past three weeks, the walk together after school became a daily ritual for both of them. Despite the busyness of his day and his trips to Belize, Elesio found himself looking forward to their evening walks and talks.

Today had been especially difficult. He had another confrontation with Mason. Elesio figured he was a powerful man in Guatemala, but Mason seemed to own even more people than him. Elesio took his threats seriously, but he wasn’t going to back down on his decisions to get out of the dirty oil business.

Laura kicked an errant mango off the path. “Who are they? Will I meet them?”

“Some will be here for the school’s board meeting. One is the Canadian I have been going to Belize to work with on the golf course.”

Laura raised her eyebrows at the mention of her mother. “Did you tell her that you hold girls as prisoners there as well?”

Elesio stopped walking. “You are not a prisoner. I told you. As far as I am concerned you can go back to Canada any time you want. I am just asking you to wait for your father to come back.”

Elesio had not heard from his son since Laura arrived. He thought this was unusual in an era of instant electronic communication —even for his son. But it was not unusual for North Korea, so he wasn’t worried yet. He also knew that it was necessary to keep Laura locked in her room at the Villa at night. Despite what Mary Ann had told him, he knew of at least three times that she had tried to walk away during the day. Each time she was stopped by one of the guards that were assigned to keep a watch on her.

“Will I meet them?”

“They will visit the school and see all of the girls. As I said, it is no secret that you were brought here. Every paper and news outlet in Canada has run some kind of story about you.”

Other than being locked up at night and watched during the day, Laura was free to do what ever she wanted. Elesio knew that if press anywhere got even a whiff of abuse then the international investigation of the school would be intense. At first he cursed his son for being so stupid as to bring this attention to the school. Now, after his walks with Laura —and the positive press the school was getting for its work with displaced young girls—he wasn’t so sure it was a bad thing.

“What if I tell them I am a prisoner here and they need to save me?”

They started walking down the road again.

“You think that they will care? Or want to get involved in a domestic dispute?”

“What will happen when my father gets here?”

“We’ll sit down and have a family discussion. If you want to leave after that I’ll put you on my private plane myself and ship you back to cold Calgary and your hockey games.” He knew that his son had no intention of sending her back. And right now he didn’t want her to go either. “How was class today?”

“Chemistry was a blast,” Laura laughed. “Literally. Esse—she is the girl from Nigeria—mixed together some Sulfuric acid with Sodium Bicarbonate. She took the wrong bottle from the shelf. It was supposed to be a simple electrolytic decomposition of sodium chloride to demonstrate an endothermic reaction. Instead it was ‘exothermic’. It singed off her eyebrows. It was a good thing she had her goggles on. History was cool today too. We learned about the history of the revolutionary movement in Guatemala. Did you know that Che Guevera was actually here? He worked in the agricultural cooperative before the military coup?”

Elesio smiled as she animatedly described all of her classes that day. Samantha from Sri Lanka was her best friend. She had a boyfriend back home, but her parents—they were killed in the civil war—wouldn’t let her marry a Tamil. She wasn’t sure what a Tamil was but they sounded like the revolutionaries in Guatemala. There was one girl from Korea that hasn’t talked to anyone since she got here, but Laura sits with her at lunch everyday and tells her about Canada. They play on the same soccer team every day in Phys Ed and she is the only girl who can score on Laura. The Guatemalan girls are better at languages than the foreigners, but not as good in math and science. They had a big argument in biology about evolution. Laura had never known people who actually believed that the world was created in seven days. They all wore little cross pendants around their necks and crossed themselves before eating.

“How was your day?”

“Quite boring compared to yours. Just business things.”

Actually his day had been rough. He had decided that after the Board meeting, and as soon as Melanie and the UN had their visit to the school, he would go back to Houston. He was turning everything over to Sergio—the school, the businesses, even the Flores house. His dealings with Mason were over. Elesio certainly had his own unsavory history. There were many things in his past that he wasn’t proud of, but this man appeared to have no conscience. He had met people like that before. People who were so self centred that only their own gratification was important. People who got what they wanted without any consideration of the effect upon others. People who never seemed bothered by the human detritus they left behind them. As a Kaibile he had seen much cruelty during the revolution days. He had even taken part in some things that still haunt him today. And they did haunt him. He could see every the face of every revolutionary that he killed in a skirmish. “But that was war,” he had told himself on the many nights when those faces woke him up in the middle of the night.

Laura interrupted his thoughts. “Who are the other visitors coming tomorrow that I am supposed to behave around?”

“Other than the Canadian who is designing and building my golf course in Belize, there will be some members of the Board that runs the school. I am also building a school there so a UN lady is coming too.”

“Why is the Canadian coming here? You have spent a lot of time with her over the past few weeks. You must like her. Does she have a name?”

He hoped she didn’t notice his blush. “Yes. Her name is Melanie. She is smart, talented, interesting and intriguing. And she asked about you by the way. The Canadian media has reported on your visit here. Your mother has even been on Television. Besides, she asked if she could visit the Mayan ruins in Tikal.”

“Is she beautiful?”

“Didn’t notice,” he deadpanned.

But there was more to it than that. Someone in the Guatemalan government had an interest in her. He had been almost been ordered by the Minister of Tourism to invite her to the school for a visit. “We are trying to establish better relations with Canada and the women is famous —at least to golfers— up there so let’s show them our wonderful hospitality,” he had been told. “Maybe they will design a new tourist golf course in Guatemala and the cruise ships will come here?”

Not that he minded. He looked forward to seeing Melanie again and looked forward to working with her on the golf project. He enjoyed the company of a woman who didn’t seem bothered by his appearance or swayed by his wealth.

“Do you like her? I mean not just like her—but like her.” She emphasized the last like.

Alvarez raised his eyebrows as he kicked a branch off the path. “Why do you ask that?”

“You seem to look forward to the meetings. And you seem in a good mood when you come back.”

“I am just excited about the concept for the golf course we are building together.”

“If you say so,” she laughed at his obvious subterfuge. “Did you ever play any other sports than golf Grandpa?”

She had started calling him Grandpa. He had never been called that by any of the other grandchildren around the country. But then he didn’t really know them all.

“As I said, I liked soccer. The other boys let me play goal. They figured I was too small to run around the field.”

“Me too. I mean goal. I played goal.” Melanie was almost a foot taller than him.

“I knew what you meant. And you play goal in hockey?”

“Yeah. My team won the championship just before I was brought here.”

“Do you really still want to go home Laura?”

She didn’t answer right away.

“I like the school. And the teachers. And having friends from all around the world is neat.”

They were approaching a sharp curve in the rutted two-wheel track that led into the jungle. “But?”

“But I miss my Mom. She needs me around. And I don’t like being locked up at night. Makes me feel like a prisoner. And I didn’t like being kidnapped.”

Laura stopped and picked a small wildflower growing in the middle of the track.

“I don’t want to see my father. I am sorry, but he isn’t a nice man.”

Elesio was silent. He knew she was right. Sergio didn’t bring his daughter here out of fatherly angst, but as an act of vengeance against the scorn of Laura’s mother. He had spawned many children, but none like Sergio. He had done everything a father was supposed to do. Good schools. Sports. Money. Attention. And he had saved his son from himself many times. He had bought off several women and their unwanted offspring — grandchildren he would never know. He had even set him up in the oil business in Calgary. One day he had been channel surfing and stopped at a Dr. Phil episode on wayward children. “When does providing an errant child with your help become enabling of their lifestyle rather than support for their recovery? When do you just say no?” Dr. Phil lectured a crying couple looking for help with their drug-addled teenager. Sergio was thirty-six and Elesio was still picking him up. Dr. Phil would have a field day with his family life.

He was now thinking that Laura could be the reason to finally say no to his son.

“Would you like to move in with me in the house in Flores?” He forgot for a moment that he had decided to leave Flores. “Some of the local girls live with their families in Flores or neighboring villages.”

“Will you be there?”

“Sometimes. I have business in Houston and elsewhere, but I am here as much as I can.” He had planned on the opposite, but his impromptu offer might change that.

“Could I come and go as I pleased?”

“Yes. But within the boundaries of safety for a sixteen-year-old girl in Guatemala. You would need a bodyguard of course. And there would be staff in the house.”

“Could mom visit?”

He wondered how far he could go in confronting his son. “I’ll buy her a ticket anytime she wants to come here.”

Laura did a little jump with both feet. She had to reach down to hug him. “Thanks Grandpa. Can we visit Horatio on the way home?” In the decade he had been feeding the old burro he had never thought of it as having a name. Laura decided that he was a Horatio. It was a little out of the way since they had walked towards the jungle today rather than towards town. “Sure,” he relented. “I have some sugar cubes in my pocket.”

He put his arms around her waist and hugged back. He couldn’t remember the last time anyone had given him a hug out of affection rather than lust. He felt warmth in his chest as she broke the hug and bounced backwards as she talked. “Maybe my friend Adrian could visit too? He is First Nations. And maybe I could have a sleepover with Esse and Samantha? They are from Nigeria and Sri Lanka you know. I could cook them some Canadian food.”

Elesio smiled and nodded. He ignored her naivety and fueled her enthusiasm. “What is Canadian food? Moose burgers?”

She didn’t have the chance to answer.

Elesio didn’t see the men behind them at first. The two men on the path in front had been hiding in the thick jungle that reached to the edge of the packed dirt road. They stood beside each other blocking the path. Each held a meter long two by four—a real two by four, not a 1.5 by 3.5 inch one like they sell in North America, but one cut from the local Tabebuia Rosa tree. The men were dark skinned so they were Guatemalan —or maybe Mexican — and dressed in faded military fatigues. They had holstered side arms but no rifles. He didn’t recognize them so they must be from one of the villages near the Mexican border, probably from one of the cartel drug gangs that controlled the northern villages. None of the local men would ever threaten him like this.

Elesio turned to go back down the path and saw two men similarly dressed with their own pieces of wood blocking the path behind him. He looked down the road beyond the men to see if anyone from the villa could see them, but the curve in the road blocked the view. He cursed himself for not bringing one of his own men with them. He had made many enemies over the years and he rarely went anywhere without some backup, but he had wanted quiet time with Laura and foolishly wanted her to feel safe.

One of the men in front of them stepped forward and pointed his stick at Laura. “That the girl?”

Elesio didn’t know if the question was for him or for the other man, but it told him what was happening. “Freaking Mason,” he muttered to himself.

“So little man,” the man offered. “Just give us the girl and we’ll go away.”

Elesio didn’t have any doubt that he could handle the two in front of him—even with their pieces of wood —as long as they kept the side arms holstered. It was doubtful that these thugs had either his training or his skill in close combat. They wouldn’t be the first to underestimate the result of challenging a “little man,” even a sixty-year-old one.

Laura had moved to stand behind him, facing the two men on the road behind them. “Can you run?” he asked Laura without turning to her.

“Maybe. But I am not leaving you.”

“They will beat me, but not kill me. They would have already shot me if that was their intent.”

“Who are they?”

“Just run. Tell some of my men at the villa. If you run, two of them will chase you and I’ll just have to deal with the other two. I’ve seen you at soccer. You can outrun these fat idiots.”

The man in front of them didn’t give her a chance to reply. “Times up. Ricardo,” he yelled to one of them men behind them. “You two get the girl. We’ll take care of the monkey.”

Elesio had no time to think of Laura as the first man rushed him with the two by four held high. He spun on his left foot and lashed into the man’s right knee with his right foot. The man dropped the stick and dropped to the ground screaming with a crushed kneecap. Elesio picked up the two by four before the second man could react and he blocked the man’s downward swing. The second man was more cautious or skilled or both. He backed off holding the two by four high above his head, circling Elesio looking for a way to attack. Elesio glanced at Laura and was surprised to see her facing the two men in a martial arts stance that he recognized as Wing Chun. He momentarily wondered where she would have learned that. The two men were clearly under orders not to hurt her so they had put their two by fours on the ground and were circling her looking for a way to grab her. He watched out of the corner of his eye as one got too close and took a shot to the nose from an open palm. She attacked the second man with the classic Wing Chun repeated chest pounding. He heard the man gasp for breath, curse and reach down for his stick. “Laura,” he yelled. As she turned he tossed her the two by four he had taken from the first man. He watched as she took up a Korean Jang Bong stance. Now he was really curious.

He had no time to think or watch further as the second man renewed his own attack, buoyed by his advantage with the stick. Elesio ducked the first swing and reached inside to trap the man’s hitting arm with his armpit and hand. He bent the arm back until the man screamed and dropped the stick. The man dropped back and took the unique Kaibile Temv-K’a stance, which was taught to all Kaibile recruits. In his youth, Elesio had never been beaten in a Temv-K’a match and had trained and beaten many young men. This man was not skilled and within seconds he was lying on the ground beside his partner with a broken arm and bloody nose.

Elesio turned his attention to Laura.

The other two men had decided that they were not getting anywhere subduing Laura with their hands and both had retrieved their two by fours. The one on Laura’s right jabbed with his stick at her head. She easily ducked the jab and poked her own two by four into his throat. He dropped his stick and grabbed his throat as he struggled to get his breath. The second man took a baseball swing at her, now dropping all pretenses at not hurting her. She easily blocked the swing and butted the man on the nose with the end of her stick. His face exploded in a spray of blood.

Elesio was amazed at how easily she had avoided the men’s attempts to hit her or grab her.

“Laura,” he ran to her and grabbed her arm. “Drop the stick. We’ve got to get out of here. There will be others following these guys.”

Laura was frozen in place holding the two by four above he head. He gently shook her arm and pulled her down the road. “Laura we have to go. Run. Now.”

She nodded and dropped the two by four.

Running on his short legs wasn’t his strongest attribute and Laura had to slow down to let him keep up to her. Within three minutes they were around the bend in the road and within sight of the villa. Elesio looked behind them but no one appeared to be following them. He doubted if they would approach within sight of the villa. He had not run a kilometre in a long time and by the time they reached the driveway to the villa he had to stop.

He put his hands on his knees and gasped for breath.

Laura stood staring at her hands, tears running down her cheeks. Elesio recognized the signs of delayed shock. He had seen it many times in young soldiers after their first skirmish. With the men he had slapped them across the face and yelled at them to bring them back to normal. He stood up straight and wrapped her in his long arms. She had to lean down a little, but she rested her head on his shoulder as the quiet tears turned to sobbing spasms that took her breath away.

He gently stroked her hair. “Is that the first time you have ever hit someone?”

“Yeah,” she sobbed. “Well… I whacked Reginald Wilson on the head in grade two after he told me I was fat. But I guess that doesn’t really count.” She had forgotten about the time in the old airbase.

Sense of humour. That’s a good sign, Elesio thought. “Hmm. But I bet old Reggie was never the same in the head after that. You pack a mean punch from what I saw.”

“I didn’t want to hurt anyone.” She broke into a choking cry again.

“Laura, they were going to hurt you. Or at least they were going to try and hurt me. We had to defend ourselves didn’t we?”

“Grandpa—Grandpa Gord that is—told me I was only to use martial arts to defend myself.”

“Is he the one who taught you how to fight like that?”

Laura broke the hug. She stood tall and wiped the tears from her face with the back of her hand. “Yeah. We used to practice every summer when I visited him and Grandma in Ottawa.”

He took her hand and led her down the short laneway to the villa.

“You are fast as well. I saw you in goal in soccer at the school.”

“Grandpa Gord said that I had something that gave me extra fast reflexes. Like him.”

Elesio knew all about spatial relationship. He knew that acquiring it was genetic, and that maybe only five percent of the population would have it to the level of her obvious speed—or his. And now he learns of a dead Grandfather that fell in that five percent space as well. And then there was Melanie McDougal. He knew from watching her golf that she must have enhanced spatial relationship attributes. He had lived all of his life around sports and soldiers, and had not met more than half a dozen others with his spatial relationship attributes and they were all professional athletes. Now he had two around him—both women.

Laura had stopped crying, but she was now shaking. “Grandpa El, who were those men? Why were they attacking us?”

He knew who they were and why they wanted Laura. He was surprised that Morales had only sent four men for the job. Elesio had trained Morales Jose Hernandez in Temv-K’a when he was a Kaibile recruit. Even though Morales was five years younger than Elesio, much to his frustration, he had never beaten Elesio in a match. He would have known that Elesio would handle two—maybe even three—easily. He obviously had not counted on Laura’s skill. Morales now led a group of ex-Kaibiles and ex-Mexican soldiers that patrolled the Mexican border for the Zeta Mexican drug cartel. They managed the territory through fear; killing villagers that got in their way. Elesio had heard that they were being paid by someone to deliver cocaine, but since they usually kept to the border area and stayed out of his business, he didn’t pay too much attention to them. It was very rare for them to leave the border area and come this close to a city like Flores. Morales knew that their continued existence and the drug flow depended upon them not being too visible to the authorities —or the international media.

Now he also knew who was paying them. Only one man had both the resources and the interest in Laura. And it was a man that wasn’t used to having anyone—even someone of Elesio’s importance and influence—say no to him. He was going to have to think about how to handle Mason at the Board meeting in a few days.

“There are bandits in the jungle that attack and rob tourists every once in a while. They don’t usually come this close to town, but I guess they thought we might have had some money. That’s why I want you to always walk with one of my men. Of course, they should be more worried about what you might do to them than what any of my men could do.”

Laura relaxed and laughed as she started up the steps to Villa.

“Go and have a shower or something,” he ordered. “I’ll join you for some dinner later.”

She reached down and gave him a hug. “Thanks for saving me. I am okay now.”

Tough little girl, he thought as he hugged her back. He turned and walked back down the path as she went into the villa. He had to make sure the villa was well guarded. He doubted that they would try again, but he didn’t want to take any chances. It was too late today, but he needed to make arrangements to get Laura out of here before Mason came in three days. Mason wouldn’t come alone and he assumed that he would just take what he wanted. Getting her out of the country wouldn’t be easy. He assumed that Mason would have the local airport under his control by now. He had been landing there with his private plane for several years so he has probably bought everyone off. Elesio could either offer more money to airport officials to let Laura leave on his own private plane, or use his own men to start a war at the airport. He didn’t have time for the former and the later would be too messy. He had to find another way to get her out.

By the time he reached the school and his Landrover, he had an idea.

It all depended upon the timing of events the day of the board meeting.

 

TWENTY-FIVE

 

May 8, 2016

Solomon’s Seal

 

 

No one had contacted from her Canada her during the three weeks she had worked with Alvarez on the golf course design in Belize. The idea was that she would have extended time alone with him while they worked on the golf course. Maybe if his guard was down she could find out some information that would help them. Richard told her she would eventually be invited to the school and the Villa in Flores —Alvarez would want her to present the golf course and school plan to the Board —and she could get Laura at that time. Once she had Laura with her, it was a short drive to the Belize border at San Ignacio. He and Mary would be waiting there to help when the time came.

He was right on the invitation part. She had received an invitation to dinner at the Villa three days from now, followed by the board meeting the next day. She thought she could figure out a way to get Laura away from her Grandfather after the board meeting.

But the three weeks in Belize had not gone exactly as she and Mary had planned.

His first visit to the course site was tense.

“Shall we walk the land together?” he had warmly offered as he met her in the lobby of the Highfalls Eco Lodge. The lodge was built on the edge of the Moho River and offered jungle walks, tube rides down the river, and organic food. The tract of land that Alvarez had purchased for the golf course was two kilometres from the Lodge, bordering the main road that led to the coast and the new cruise ship dock.

“That would fine,” she cautiously offered. “It would certainly be the best way to get a feel for the topography.”

She had seen his photos in the dossier that Mary had compiled, as well as watched him on television when he was interviewed after the golf tournament in Houston, but none of it prepared her for their first face-to-face meeting. It wasn’t his physical presence that disarmed her, although he was misshapen. His legs were too short and his arms too long for a five feet four inch height. His Indigenous features were more prominent in person than was evident in the photos or the media. His thick black hair was slicked back in the Spanish-South American style. He was dressed in khaki shorts, shirt and held a Petrobuy baseball hat in his left hand. He did not appear to show any discomfort at their height difference as he smiled and looked sharply up to greet her. The look he gave her as they shook hands was welcoming and committed.

His eyes momentarily gripped her attention. It wasn’t the colour — which she noticed for the first time —although the intensity of the green hue was deep and somehow unsettling. She thought of it as jungle green and perhaps a genetic hangover from a distant Mayan connection. His eyes were possibly the agents of a child pornographer, yet to her they were strangely comforting

“Let’s take the Landrover,” he offered. “The site is only a few minutes drive away”

Melanie had already been to the golf course site. She had arrived at the Lodge the day before and the first thing she had done after the four-hour drive from Belize City was to walk to the property. The survey and topographic maps that she brought with her showed the location and shape of the land, but it was hard to get a complete feel for the design standing at the edge of the dirt road that she had walked from the lodge. Even though the property looked like mostly pasture land, she didn’t want to walk to far into the property on her own so she had stayed at the road, laying her maps on the shoulder of the road to try and align the maps to the property. Back home she had actually used the maps to mock up the Solomon’s Seal design, and from the road she could see the location for the clubhouse and the stamen of the flower design. Hopefully she would now be able to get her feet on the land and truly get a feel for the shape of the design.

“Welcome to Solomon’s Seal, Ms. McDougal,” he cheerfully announced as they pulled up in the Rover at the same spot she had stood the day before. “I imagine that if you think hard enough you can realize that you are standing beside the second tee box.”

She couldn’t help but laugh at his announcement. She had stood there the day before and, while she had made the design sketches, hadn’t gone so far as to imagine the location of every hole.

“Ha. You have studied the plans Senor,” she complimented him as they steeped down from the SUV. “The second tee box of the ‘petal’ farthest from the clubhouse should be right about there.” She pointed to a spot thirty metres into the pasture that led along the road. The course was designed as the six petals of the Solomon’s Seal flower, with each petal comprising 3 holes; a par 3, a par 4 and par 5.

“A par three if I am not mistaken?” he queried as he walked to the back of the Landrover. While he had flown in a small private plane to the Lodge, his Landrover was waiting there for them to use over the next three weeks as she worked on the design. “Let’s consummate our relationship,” he announced as he opened the hatch and pulled out two sets of golf clubs.

“You’re kidding,” she laughed.

“Well, we will have to imagine the location of the green.” He pointed to the west of the pasture. “This one is 162 yards out there somewhere? Right?”

She nodded.

He pulled a laser distance device from his bag and walked into the pasture and after sticking a tee in the ground aimed the laser into the pasture. “So where do I look?”

She closed her eyes and tried to imagine the hole as she had designed it. “Aim southwest,” she announced without opening her eyes.

“Got it. The target will be that old Cieba tree.” He pointed to a tree partly hidden by a rise in the pasture. It is 170 yards, but close enough for today?”

“Sure” she tentatively agreed. “Close enough.”

“It is only fitting that we should be the land’s ‘first’ don’t you think?” He picked up both sets of clubs, hoisted them to the imaginary tee box and pulled out his own 6 iron, and half dozen balls. “I hope the clubs are good enough for you?”

She reached to the other bag and pulled out a 7 iron. A few air swings and she realized that the clubs were exact swing balance copies of her own custom set back at the folly. “How did you do this?”

“Your clubs have been analyzed by every club maker in the U.S. Every pro wants to think that your success was based on your equipment not your talent. Me? I suspect that I could give you an old mashie and you would still beat most of them. But let’s have some fun? Last person to hit the trunk of the old tree buys dinner?”

She realized that the outcome of the competition was never intended to be in doubt. He was very good, but it was his full intention to buy her dinner. After she hit the tree trunk on her first shot and he missed by a metre, the competition became best of three and then total number of hits. Then he picked a mango tree that lasered at 230 and they tried that. After they had used up the two dozen new Pro-Vs that were in each bag, they agreed that dinner was on him. Neither mentioned that dinner at the Lodge was included with the accommodation.

“I think that is the kind of fun that Burt had in mind when he came up with the Solomon’s Seal design,” she laughed as he bowed and she accepted his 6 iron as a token of his defeat. “Elesio, I hope that we can design this course so that every golfer that comes has the same fun that we just had.

Over a first dinner that lingered far into the evening, he told her that he had originally decided to do the golf course thing because he thought it would be a profitable, but after her presentation —and reinforced by that first day —he had changed his mind. Now he was in agreement with her. They would build a course that would not only bring the fun back into the game, but also be affordable, accessible and environmentally friendly. It would provide employment—and schooling— for local workers. She was so wrapped up in their combined enthusiasm for the project that she forgot about the other purpose that had brought her to Belize and to Elesio Alvarez.

The day after the first visit she had begun organizing the team of surveyors and labourers who would stake out each hole before the construction team would begin the assault on the pasture and patches of jungle. On several occasions she adjusted the theoretical design that she had made back at the Folly from the aerial surveying, to account for a tree or a patch of jungle that she decided to save.

He returned to Belize nine times over the next three weeks. On each visit she had prepared the layout for two new holes for them to try. Each evening they returned to the lodge for dinner while they poured over the increasingly detailed rendering that the Belizean architect prepared on a daily basis. One of the three bedroom cabins at the lodge was set up as an architect’s design and production studio.

On the second visit she raised the topic of the school, hoping to get some clues to share with Mary and Richard. All she learned was his enthusiasm for providing the opportunity for a good education for the children of the golf course employees and others in the community. “I have shown in Guatemala what we can do with sufficient funding, good and modern infrastructure, qualified teachers, and the best equipment. The Belize school system is really not that bad, so we should be able to partner with the government here to build a first rate school.”

She learned that his apparent motivation for a school for young women came from a desire to honour and remember his mother. She had to choke back tears when he told her how his mother had died.

“What about the international students?” she finally probed on the fourth visit.

“We may have all the students we need with Belize citizens,” was all that he said before shifting the discussion to U.S. politics. He wanted to know what Canadians thought of the U.S. Presidential race. They laughed over their drinks of the antics of Trump and agreed he would be a disaster for the U.S.—and the world. “He probably doesn’t know where Belize is, so we should be safe for a while, down here.” Alvarez concluded.

On the sixth visit she thought he seemed distracted. They finished the discussion of the 12th and 13th holes abruptly and then there was an unusual silence as as he toyed with his Crème Caramel. “You never had children did you?” he had suddenly asked that night. Up until this point in his visits their conversations had stayed within the boundaries of golf, education, politics and the odd shared rant about the scourge of the drug trade through Central America.

“No. By the time Burt and I were married we figured that late fifties was a little late to procreate.”

“You didn’t met anyone in your thirty years in Mexico.”

It was a statement, not a question and she began to realize that he knew more about her than she was comfortable with. He had never raised her history before and she was immediately cautious. “None I wanted to raise a family with. But you seem to know the answer to that.”

“Please don’t be uncomfortable Melanie,” he pleaded as he reached over and touched her hand. There was a sadness and compassion in the green eyes and she left her hand in place. “I have always thought it necessary to research the background of anyone I do business with. Before I met you or hired you, I had someone do research for me. Because I know something of your history doesn’t come close to diminishing what I have learned about you over the past couple of weeks.”

She pulled her hand back and toyed with the chocolate cake in front of her. “Why the child question?”

“I’m following in love at the same time as I’m falling out of it,” he announced.

“I don’t understand?”

“With two different family members. With one I am becoming increasingly besotted. With the other I am becoming increasingly annoyed —to put it mildly and politely.”

“Your children?”

"One," he admitted. And that evening he unloaded to her the complete history of Sergio and his life. Melanie learned of a dysfunctional child and a strained father -son relationship. She had read in Mary's files the details of Sergio's life, so none of it was new to her although she made a point to laugh and grimace at the the right times in his story—and show sympathy in others. At the story of Sergio's' child pornography charges in Texas she found herself putting her fork down and reaching over and touching his hand. She told herself it was just part of her strategy to encourage his talk—maybe the apple does not fall far from the tree— but she felt genuine sympathy at his grief as a parent. She took particular interest in his description of Sergio's interest in the international students, and his role in recruiting Board members. She would report this to Mary. He had not yet mentioned the kidnapping and Laura.

“What are you going to do?”

“Cut my physical and emotional ties to him. Hand the school over to him, leave him enough money to live the rest of his life, and leave Guatemala. I believe that is the only way that I can survive. Does that sound too cruel? To simply disappear from his life as a father?”

She couldn’t empathize with the child part, but she thought of all the people the she left behind when she disappeared to Mexico for thirty years. She understood the need to vacate from a particular environment —and the people in it—in order to heal. She could see that he was hurting and needed space to heal.

“I don’t know about children Elesio, but I do know that self preservation sometimes requires selfish action.

He didn’t say anything as he toyed with his salad. She thought he appeared unusually vulnerable and sad. She fought an urge to get up and hug him.

“Enough of sad stories,” he suddenly woke from his thoughts and announced. “How are the local contractors working out?”

They had already gone over the details of the construction and Melanie knew it was a distraction to take their conversation to a safer place. She shared once again the stories of broken down bulldozers, and workers’ insensitivity to her passion for one particular fir tree on what would be the third hole and the fifth petal. “I believe that tree is positioned dead in the middle of the fairway precisely at driving distance. It will provide all sorts of fun for golfers trying to figure out whether to go over the tree or lay up have to soot their second shot over it. But try and explain that to a crew boss who has never golfed.”

They laughed together as the coffee was finished. As she said goodbye to him in the Lodge’s lobby before he headed to the landing strip and his single engine plane and pilot, he reached out and took both her hands. “Thanks for listening Melanie. The course is coming along fine. See you in a couple of days again.”

For a moment she thought that he was going to reach up try and kiss her, and for a moment the thought didn’t repulse her. “This is a kidnapper and pornographer,” she had to say out loud as she walked back to her cabin.

On the eighth visit he finally raised the issue of his granddaughter.

“You do some martial arts don’t you?” he asked as he hit his tee shot on the imaginary 15th par 5 hole. It was one of the tougher holes—600 yards around a sharp dog leg left over one of the few patches of the un-cleared jungle on the land.

Melanie stopped reaching for her own driver. “How would you know that?”

“It wasn’t hard to find Maria and trace her Mexican life. I’m surprised a good reporter wasn’t able to trace your life in Mexico. It would have made you even more of a media sensation on the Tour. My investigator just followed Burt rather than you and found a strange woman who looked after the flowers at the Puertos golf curse and shot five irons in the middle of the night on the range. A very nice Canadian couple —they still run the restaurant by the way—enthusiastically told a story of a wild brawl of some sort outside their place one night where Burt’s date managed to embarrass four young, abusive men with her fighting skill.”

“It wasn’t a brawl and Burt helped out,” Melanie deadpanned. “What else do you know?”

“Apparently, not to piss you off,” he chided. “But I suppose if I want to I can create a full caricature of your thirty Mexico years, but it really doesn’t matter Melanie. You are who you are. And it is that person I enjoy spending time with and the person who is building and designing my golf course. Neither of our histories really matter much if we really want to get on with life.”

Melanie brushed a small caterpillar off the shaft of her driver. “Do you know why I originally disappeared?”

“Not in detail. But since your Harvard Professor caddie on the Tour and your best friend at College studies the residual effects of sexual assault I’m going to guess something in that realm?”

“No one can just void their histories Elesio. The things that have happened to me in my life—and what I have done—do not float like ether into the air and disappear. They are more like an old tea bag that sits and steeps forever, making an increasingly bitter brew. If I ‘am who I am’ as you say, those histories will continue to steep.” She paused and walked to the area they had decided was the tee box. “And yes. I know some martial arts. A Korean housekeeper sort of adopted me when I worked for a family that lived near Mexico City.”

“With your enhanced spatial relationship skills you must be a fearsome opponent.”

She stopped again and stared at him.

“Your professor friend again. You were the first case study she wrote up for her doctoral dissertation. And I have watched you play golf after all. Your performance doesn’t all come from your Moe Norman swing. But I ask because I watched someone fight yesterday and I wasn’t sure the type of martial arts she used— or how her grandfather knew it?”

She didn’t answer. She picked up the driver and hit a gentle draw that followed the curve of the jungle and landed out of sight around the corner. The ball would probably be lost in the long savanna grass that had not yet been cleared from this part of the land. If he had made the connection between her and Laura, then her role in saving Laura was compromised.

She watched the ball disappear around the bend. “Her grandfather? Another one? Is this your granddaughter you are talking about?”

“Yes,” he announced. “Laura. My granddaughter.” As they walked to the approximate location of the par 4 16th tee box he told her about Laura’s kidnapping and her time at the school over the past month.”

“I remember reading about that in the paper, but I hadn’t connected it to you and the school,” she lied.

“That’s nice of you to say Melanie, but you are as bad a liar as you are good a golfer. I sensed how you felt about me when we first met a few weeks ago. You and all of Canada know about the abduction and wondered what evil old man could kidnap his own granddaughter. I wonder now why you even want to work with me on this course project?”

“You told me that it was your son that did the kidnapping, not you.”

“Yet I still hold her hostage?”

“All the reports are that it is a great school and she is doing well.”

“Hmm,” he stopped and looked at her. “You do know more than you let on. I wonder if you really know how complicated this issue has become.”

“She is the one that you have fallen in love with?”

He looked at the ground and silently nodded.

“Hmm. Love always complicates things doesn’t it? Now tell me more about the fight you mentioned.”

He told her about the attack on the road near the jungle behind the school. “Other than she clearly has considerably enhanced spatial relationship skills, there were two things about her fighting I didn’t recognize. One was the way she handled the two by four and the other was the chest pounding motion.

Melanie realized that Gord—before he disappeared and became Burt—had taught Laura the two types of martial arts he had learned from the agency. She didn’t want Alvarez to make the connection. “I don’t know about the chest thing, “she lied again. But the two by four action sounds like the Korean Jang Bong. I learned that from the Korean woman in Mexico. I guess her grandfather knew it as well. It is not uncommon I think?”

“Yes. I found that out. And the chest pounding thing is a Wing Chun move.”

“Oh? I think I’ve heard of that.”

“Yes. It was apparently popular in the Kung Foo movies of the seventies. It’s strange that a 15-year-old girl in 2016 would know both of these? But it is getting dark.” he announced as he shifted the conversation. “I have to head back to Flores tonight to deal with some visitors and do some planning for the school’s board meeting. You are doing great work on the course Melanie. Hopefully one day soon we will be able to play the real layout?”

His next— and last visit— was two days later. She sensed that something had changed.

They started to walk the 17th hole. The land for 17 and 18 had not yet been cleared so the jungle and vegetation was too thick to try and hit some shots. “I hope you will agree to join me and a few other guests at the Villa tomorrow night. The board meeting is the next day and I could use a friendly face around the place.”

“Is it something about Laura that concerns you?”

“Something about everything concerns me right now, Melanie. I hope to do something to dilute the bitterness of that steeping tea bag you so colourfully described. You might find it entertaining.”

 

 

TWENTY-SIX

 

May 9, 2016

Judgment day…

 

 

“Who are they?” Adrian whispered.

He, Sanchez and Angelica were laying prone in a drainage ditch that ran along the edge of the jungle, parallel to the main road leading into the village. The sun had not yet fully risen, but the early dawn gave them enough light to make out the details of the squad of eleven men thirty metres away as they walked into the village. They were dressed in various types of military fatigues and each man carried several weapons—a rifle of some sort, a sidearm and a machete. They walked down the road like Adrian had seen soldiers do in the old Vietnam war movies he liked to watch. One man was on ‘the point’ and he walked in the middle of the road. The others walked along the edge of the road, spread out in single file with five metres between them. All had their rifles carried in a ready position.

Angelica turned to him and put her finger to her lips to silence him. “Drug runners. Mostly ex Mexican military with a few of our own ex Kaibiles thrown in. Be quiet. You don’t want to know them. I’ll explain later.”

He had now been in the village for three weeks and the school construction was finished. They had received daily updates on Laura, and while she was apparently doing fine and in no danger that they could tell, he was growing increasingly impatient to leave the village and take her home. Sanchez had told him everyday to be patient. They would go when the time was right. Angelica had shaken him awake only few moments ago. Sanchez was already waiting outside the door of their home. He had been down by the river trying some dawn fishing when he saw the men approaching. “Be quiet and follow me,” he had ordered. Now they watched as the men approached the edge of the village. Sanchez was clearly nervous and Adrian could see the fear in her eyes as Angelica watched the men move past their position in the ditch by the path leading to their house. They were both visibly relieved when the leader ignored the path and kept going into the village.

“Are they looking for us?” Angelica whispered?

Sanchez waited until the men were out of easy hearing range. “They must be after something more profitable than us. Let’s circle around the edge of the village and watch. May be nothing. Might be just passing through.”

“Not likely,” Angelica whispered. “These druggies don’t come this far away from the border without reason. Too dangerous for them.”

Adrian was puzzled. “Why would drug dealers be after you guys?”

“They don’t need a reason,” Angelica hissed.

Yes they do, Adrian thought as he followed them into the jungle that surrounded the village.

They followed paths in the dark jungle that even after three weeks of walking the area, Adrian knew he would never be able to find again. After ten minutes they came to a clearing at the top of a small rise that overlooked the centre of the village. They crawled until they could just see the school, the churches, the community centre and the one room store. Someone had given a command to relax since the men were now lounging about on the grass beside the road smoking and talking. One man with a white bandage across his nose stood in the middle of the road scanning the area, holding what Adrian recognized from television as an AK 47. Although it was unlikely the man could see them through the tall grass and the dawn light, they instinctively put their heads down when his scan turned in their direction.

“Do you see Morales?”

Angelica squinted through the haze, mentally counting each of the soldiers. “No. He must have gone into a building somewhere.”

Adrian turned to them both. “You know someone down there?”

“Oh yeah,” they both whispered simultaneously.

“There he is,” Angelica pointed to the Pentecostal church at the edge of town. The man that they called Morales emerged from the church with a man and two women. Adrian recognized them as Pastor Day and the two Pentecostal women school building volunteers. Neither Day nor the girls seemed to be acting like they were in any danger.

“Shit,” Sanchez exclaimed. “It’s them. It is the Goddamn Pentecostals. Never would have guessed.”

“Guessed what?” Adrian was confused. “Are they safe?”

Angelica rolled her eyes. “Si amigo. Mucho safe. At least from them. But he isn’t. Gramps, look over there.”

Sanchez and Adrian both looked to where she was pointing.

A man emerged from the jungle and entered the space between the church and the new school. He had a single shot, small calibre rifle hung from a sling over his shoulder and he was carrying a small, dead, animal of some sort in his right hand. Even from their distance they could hear his humming as he walked towards the road.

“Run Francisco,” Sanchez pleaded. “Drop the bush rat and run for Christ’s sake.”

Francisco saw Morales and the Pentecostals at the same time they saw him. His eyes went from Morales to Pastor Day and back to Morales. The single shot from Morales’ pistol entered his forehead before he had a chance to drop the rat and unsling his own rifle. He stood wide-eyed for what seemed to Adrian as seconds, and then toppled backwards.

Morales re-holstered his pistol. Day shook his hand and then he and the girls went back into the church. Morales yelled an order and the men stubbed out their smokes, shouldered their packs and set up in their previous marching order. One man had his arm in a sling and needed help getting the pack on his back. Within minutes they were out of sight of the village.

Adrian threw up.

Sanchez pushed his head down. “Quiet. This isn’t over.”

Adrian wiped his mouth and looked at the village again. Despite the loud gunshot no one had yet stirred from a home. Angelica nodded to the road that led out of town. There was one man left behind, standing partially hidden behind a large mango tree. His rifle was slung over his shoulder and he had a small bottle with a rag sticking out of it in his left hand.

“What’s he doing?”

“Waiting until someone makes a noise.”

“Then what?”

His question was answered when a baby cried from one of the homes fifty metres from the man. The soldier casually lit a cigarette that was hanging from his lips as he walked down the path to the home. He flicked the lighter again, lit the rag in the bottle mouth and threw it at the roof of the house. After making sure that he had hit his target he jogged down the road to catch up.

There was no sound from the village. Adrian thought that even the chickens, pigs and small dogs that seemed to run wild around the houses were scared into silence. Then, slowly, people started to emerge from their homes. Men came out first, and after they scanned the roads beckoned to the women and children. The first thing that everyone did was run to the burning house. It was near a water standpipe so everyone—men, women and children big enough—formed a water line passing buckets of water to the front and empty buckets back.. Two men at the front of the line threw the water onto the burning roof. Adrian recognized that this was a practiced effort.

By the time that Angelica, and Adrian reached the line, the fire was mostly out. The green palm fronds on the roof smoldered more than burnt. They would have to be replaced, but the wooden structure of the house was untouched by the fire.

Sanchez ignored the fire and ran straight to the man that had been shot. Adrian and Angelica followed when they realized they would be no help at the fire. Pastor Day was leaning over the man when Sanchez got there.

“Leave him alone,” Sanchez ordered

“I was just pray…”

Sanchez grabbed the man’s shoulders and threw him back so hard he stumbled and fell. “Get away from him I said.”

Day picked himself up from the dust and moved away and stood by the front of the church with the two volunteers. Sanchez sat beside the fallen body and put the man’s head on his lap. He gently closed the man’s eyes and started to sob. “Francisco. Francisco. My dear Francisco,” he muttered through the tears.

He was sitting there rocking back and forth with the man’s head still in is lap when Adrian and Angelica arrived. Adrian wondered where the blood was. He could see the hole in the front of the man’s forehead—but no blood. Maybe the man was just injured he thought for a moment. Now Angelica was also sobbing as she leaned down over her father and hugged him. “Come Grandpa. There isn’t anything you can do now. We will have plenty of time to mourn Francisco. We need to look after the family.” She helped him gently place Francisco on the ground.

He stood up, wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt. He stared over at Day and the two girls. “We need to look after other things first,” he hissed as he started to move towards them.

Angelica grabbed his arm. “Not now,” she ordered. “There is time for that as well.”

“Not for me.” He pushed aside her hand and strode to the Pastor. Angelica and Adrian followed.

Day put out his arms in some sort of supplication as Sanchez approached. The two girls saw the look in Sanchez’ eyes and stood behind Day. “Senior Sanchez I am so sorry about your friend.”

“My cousin, Pastor,” Sanchez clarified in a calm voice. “He was my cousin.”

“Oh my dear. Such a tragedy. Such evil people. The Lord does work in some mysterious ways some times. We will pray for you and your family.” He looked back at the two girls and they nodded enthusiastically.

“Perhaps we could go inside the church and pray now? My soul is in need of some comfort Pastor.”

“I wasn’t aware that you frequented our church Senor Sanchez?”

“Tragedy can make strange church fellows Pastor. Inside please?”

Day and the girls went into the church and Sanchez, Angelica and Adrian followed. Behind them they could hear the screams of a woman and some children as they approached the body of Francisco. Adrian glanced back before he went into the church and saw that someone had put a potato sack over the head of the body. The screaming woman threw off the sack and hugged the man’s head. “His wife,” Angelica offered as the heavy church door closed behind them.

The Pentecostal church was by far the most solidly constructed building in the village. Some donor from the U.S. had donated enough money to bring in concrete blocks and steel girders for the frame. The inside was finished with mahogany imported from Nicaragua. The pews were Oak shipped in from the states. The alter had been carved out of one piece of New Zealand Kaury wood. The kneeling railing in front of the alter had been carved in Quebec City.

“Very nice,” Sanchez exclaimed. “No expense spared here.”

“Our sponsors are very generous. They appreciate the Lord’s work that we are doing here in the village.”

“I am sure,” Sanchez pointed to a door behind the alter. “That door leads to your living quarters?”

“Yes. Modest accommodation for me and the guests that volunteer to serve the Lord.”

“I’ll bet.” Sanchez had been part of the construction crew who had helped the American volunteers build the church and the accommodation. He knew how ‘basic’ the place was.

Adrian was struck with how cool and quiet it was in the church. The solid concrete walls, floor and roof structure must soundproof and cool the place.

Pastor Day moved to the front of the Alter. “Would you like to pray now?”

Sanchez moved to the railing and knelt down with his hands clasped together on top of the railing. He looked down. “I pray that you tell us where the back pack is before I have to hurt you.”

The two girls started to move to the door leading to the accommodation but Angelica blocked them. They looked back at the church door but Adrian was between them and the door. He realized he was part of what ever it was that Sanchez and Angelica were planning.

Angelica pointed to the girls’ feet. They both wore sandals with faux diamonds adorning the straps. “I love the colour you have chosen for your toenails. Mayan purple? And those sandals. Perfect for a day’s construction work.”

“School is all built,” the taller one offered. “Time for us to go home.”

Adrian suddenly realized that these women were not dressed in the usual village attire, even for foreign volunteers. One wore a well-pressed pantsuit and the other a loose fitting skirt and a sleeveless white top. He also remembered that both were very fit. Over the last week they had carried building materials with the strongest man. When they played pick up soccer with the kids they were skilled. He wondered if he and Angelica could stop these women from doing anything?

“What backpack Senor?”

Sanchez stood up and moved in front of Day and pulled a curved knife from behind his back. “The soldier —Morales—had a bright yellow backpack when he went into the church. He didn’t have it when he left.”

Adrian had not noticed. He recognized the knife from when Sanchez cleaned the fish.

Day lost his sanctimonious smile. The two women moved so they were about three metres apart. “It is behind the alter.” He reached down and pulled the large —Adrian guessed in the sixty litre category— yellow backpack from behind the alter. “Look. These people…” he nodded to the women. “Pay for everything down here. The school. The church. The medical treatment. Everything. It is a good arrangement.”

“You don’t care much for the lost souls that use the stuff in that backpack?” Angelica interjected.

“My work is here. Not in the U.S. The people here can be saved. Americans are beyond redemption. Abortion on demand. Homosexual marriages. Gluttony. They worship movie stars and athletes instead of the one true God. And they will all burn in hellfire for it.” He paused and backed away from the knife and towards the Alter. “I am saving your people from all of that.”

Sanchez sneered. “Well that is wonderful. My cousin’s children will be glad to know how much you have their welfare in mind.”

“What do you want?”

“Unless you and your apostles here want to spend your life praying in a Guatemala jail, tell us the routine here?” Sanchez nodded to the women. “I gather that you two are mules of some sort. Did you bring money too?”

The taller of the two stepped forward. Adrian noticed that she had a mauve and black carry-on bag at her feet. “No. No one does cash anymore. Pay Pal actually.”

“Seriously? Who is the buyer?”

“Don’t know. He’s some rich oil guy. He makes the payments. We just pick up the product.”

Angelica stepped forward. “It is cocaine, bitch. Not a pair of Gucci shoes.”

“Whatever. He’s figured out a way to get money to the Mexican cartels —and a way to get the ‘shoes’ back to the U.S. We just help with the latter. And preacher here just gives us a cover to be here.”

Angelica scanned the women up and down. “You were planning on leaving today?”

The second women moved towards Adrian who was blocking the aisle. “Yes. And if big Geronimo here would just get out of the way we’ll be gone.”

Adrian stood tall and crossed his arms. “Geronimo no let um you go.”

Angelica stifled a laugh. “I wouldn’t cross him girl. He’s been known to scalp those he doesn’t like.”

The girl backed away. “We’re flying out from the airport in Flores.”

“With the dope? You’d never get past the dogs.”

“No. Our job is to get the stuff from the gang and deliver to some school for wayward girls on our way to the airport. Nothing suspicious about a couple of women volunteers visiting a school for girls.”

Sanchez pointed to the bag with his knife. “How much is in the bag?”

“Thirty kilos.”

“What happens to the dope when it gets to the school?”

“None of our business. But the same guy that funds all of this, apparently funds the school as well.” Both women pointed to the church. “And he has a private jet that lands in Flores.”

Day moved closer to the alter. “What are you going to do with us?”

Angelica moved closer to the taller one. “You two are flying home. It is an hour drive to Flores in the good Lord’s new jeep. Don’t ever come back to Guatemala.”

“What about the dope?”

Sanchez turned to the woman. “Stay’s here. We’ll donate it to the Guatemalan transgendered alliance.”

“Can’t do that buddy.”

She spun around on her back foot and her front foot caught Sanchez hard on the chest. It didn’t knock him down, but he was winded for a moment.

The other woman turned to Adrian and tried the same kick on him. He blocked it with his forearm. The woman spun and tried the other foot. This one caught him on the arm muscle but didn’t move him. She was only five four and he was a six foot three, two hundred and ten pound hockey player. The she tried her hands. Adrian kept his hands in front of his face as she pounded with first an open and then a closed fist. He couldn’t bring himself to hit her so he did what he did in a hockey fight. He grabbed her shirt and pulled it over her head as he yanked her inside of her swinging range. Then he put her in a bear hug and held on tight.

Sanchez was taking the same pounding, but unlike Adrian he fought back. Adrian watched as he blocked her second kick and then her fists before swing out his own leg into the back her calf. She went down hard on the slate church floor. Sanchez put his foot on her throat and pointed at her to stop.

Day had moved quickly to behind the alter. “Stop.”

Adrian looked from behind the woman’s head. Day was holding a pistol. Angelica was frozen in place only a metre from him.

“Stop or I’ll shoot.”

Adrian almost laughed at the line.

“Let her go,” he ordered Adrian.

Adrian let the woman go and she turned and slapped him.

“You too Senor.”

Sanchez took his foot away from the woman’s throat. He jumped away to avoid a retaliation shot from the woman as she stood up.

Day motioned for Angelica to go and stand with her father. He threw some keys to the closest woman. “The Land Rover is out back. Get the stuff and let’s go.”

“What about them?”

Day turned to Sanchez. “What about you? Are you going to cause trouble or do I shoot you now? Or perhaps tell Morales that you cooperated so he will not flatten the whole village.”

“We will not follow.”

“Go with the Lord,” Angelica sneered.

“And you my child,” Day responded as he backed out of the rear entrance to the church and closed the door behind him.

Adrian sat down on the closest pew. He started to shake.

Angelica put a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Never had a gun pointed at you kid?”

He shook his head. “Never fought a woman either. Or for that matter anyone else off a hockey rink.” He forgot about that time with Laura in the old base.

“Well, welcome to Central America Adrian.”

“Fucking Morales,” Sanchez yelled.

Adrian was puzzled. “Who is this guy? How do you know his name?”

“Everyone here knows about him. He was a Kaibile officer. Not a good one. He led a special squad in the early eighties that wiped out Indigenous villages while searching for the revolutionaries I told you about it before. He was released by the Kaibiles for killing another officer in a fight. He was angry. He wanted to get rich. And the Mexican cartels were offering it all.”

Angelica interrupted their conversation. “I’ve talked to Hernandes,” she explained as she closed her cell phone. “He will watch for their Rover and see who at the school gets the bag. Right now we have to get out of Dodge, as your cowboys say. When Morales finds out that we know what’s going on he will come back with a vengeance. The only way to save the village is for us to be very visibly gone.”

“Where is that?”

“I know a place to camp. But before we go there I’d like to go to the school tonight. Someone is coming to pick up that bag. I’d like to know who it is.”

 

TWENTY-SEVEN

 

May 9, 2016

 

 

Sanchez closed his cell phone. “One of the teachers—Caucasian, blond hair—took the knapsack from the car while Day and the two women were visiting the school. Hernandez watched as she took the pack into the villa behind the school.”

Angelica put a few twigs onto the small cooking fire in the kitchen of the house. She stirred the ingredients of a cast iron pot simmering on the grate. “Whom did she give it to?”

“She didn’t give it to anyone. Just stashed it somewhere in the Villa.”

“Alvarez?”

“Don’t think so. He’s been into some pretty bad things in his day, but he has never been into drugs as far as we know. Besides, Hernandez said he was out walking with Laura when the teacher put the bag in the villa. And he never even went into the villa when they came back from the walk.”

Adrian reached for the tin coffee pot staying warm on the edge of the grate. “I don’t care about the pack. The drugs. Or Elesio. Or anyone else. I just want to get Laura out of there.”

Sanchez and Angelica exchanged glances.

“Looks to us like she doesn’t want to leave,” Angelica offered. “She walks with her Grandfather every day and has the freedom to do what she wants —except leave the villa at night. Looks to me like he has convinced her to stay.”

“She can’t know the danger she is in,” Adrian protested. “I know her. She wouldn’t do anything against her will. She is just playing possum, waiting for her chance?”

“Possum? You mean Opossum? Hanging from a tree branch?”

“Never mind. Heard it in a John Wayne movie. My point is that we all know what goes on that school. We know that her grandfather brought her there to take part in it. And we can assume she doesn’t know all of this. But none of that changes the fact that we have to get her out of there—and soon.”

They exchanged another glance.

“Adrian,” Sanchez offered as he reached into his back pocket and pulled out a soiled leather wallet. “She is your problem. Ours is the drug route.” He flipped open the wallet to show Adrian the credential and small badge.

“I don’t understand?”

Angelica reached into her bra and did the same. “We are both federal agents Adrian. We have been trying for several years to figure out how the Zeta’s got their drugs out of Guatemala—and how the money got in. The agency figured out that something was happening in this district so, since we were from here, a year ago we were sent back: me to teach, and Gramps here to farm. Morales and his gang coming today was the big break we have been waiting for.”

“That worked well for you didn’t it,” Adrian spat. “Losing a cousin today was part of the plan I presume?”

Sanchez and Angelica silently stared into their coffee cups.

“Sorry. That wasn’t appropriate. But if you are cops, why don’t you care about a kidnapped Canadian? Or the porn they run there?”

“It is horrible,” Angelica answered. “But our first priority —the order we have been given—is to get the drug route closed.”

Sanchez stood up and walked over to the open shelves in the kitchen to get some plates and cutlery. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t do something about Laura.”

“What do you mean?”

“We think that the drugs will be moved at the school board meeting in three days. Apparently there is a Canadian coming from Belize to visit the school at that time. The timing is just too coincidental. She isn’t even an educator or a philanthropist. She is a golfer. There are all sorts of illegal movement of goods back and forth across the border. We figure that she will be given the drugs and then she will drive back to Belize. Probably take the Tikal highway and pretend to be just another tourist. From Belize there are a million ways the drugs can get to the North American market.”

“Sounds very exciting, “Adrian interjected. “But what about Laura?”

“There’s more,” Sanchez explained. “Our agents at the airport have told us that one of Elesio’s Board members is flying in as well. He comes regularly. We don’t think he’s coming for the tamales or the weather.”

“Yeah. We could be the courier of the videos. Maybe even the dark site operator. We think that he has moved on from simple photos and videos and coming for Laura. We figure that he actually ordered her — like you order a pizza — and her father or Grandfather set up the delivery. That is apparently why we have been told to wait three weeks to get Laura. But after that Board meeting, you can get her out of there.

“How do I do that? She doesn’t even know I am here?”

“Easy,” Angelica offered. “Just convince her to visit Belize with the Canadian golfer. Someone will pick you and Laura up at the border. Along with the Canadian woman and the drugs.”

Sanchez checked his watch. “If we leave now we should be at the school by dark.”

 

TWENTY-EIGHT

 

May 9, 2016

Laura…

 

 

 

“These men,” Laura blurted between mouthfuls of her pizza. “They tried to hurt us.”

Doughty had been in the villa the night before when she had received Elesio’s call. Elesio had briefly described the attack and told her that Laura will likely have some delayed shock reaction. “If it is too bad give her something to sleep,” he had suggested. The pill had kept her sleeping all night and most of the day.

Doughty gave her a kiss on the forehead. “Look. Your grandfather would never let that happen to you.”

“He’s a pretty good fighter isn’t he?” Laura wiped some errant tomato sauce from her face with a paper towel.

“He’s an old soldier. A tough guy for sure. Look. He said you were pretty tough yourself?”

“I don’t like to hurt people.”

“How did you learn to do that martial arts stuff?” Elesio had asked Doughty to see what she could find out.

“My other grandfather taught me. We used to pretend fight with each other. That’s the first time I have ever hurt someone though.” She didn’t want to talk about either the event after the hockey game or the kidnapping.

“Your first fight,” Doughty laughed. “And you won!”

“Yeah. I guess we did. Maybe scared those bad guys off?”

“For sure,” she lied. “Look. They will think twice about coming around here again.”

“I want to go home Mary Ann. I miss my mother—and my friends.” The fight had reminded her of Adrian.

“Look. Why don’t you finish your pizza and then you can get some more sleep. Then tomorrow you and your Grandfather can talk about your going home. If that is really what you want.”

Laura sat up and wiped her face again. “Okay.”

Even Laura had to agree that the pizza was good. She and her mom had tried every pizza place within ten kilometres of their apartment. She had kept notes on the taste and texture of dozens of different types of pizza and had planned on starting a pizza review blog before she was kidnapped. Her favorite was a place that broke the Italian tradition and served various international toppings. There was the Indian —a Vindaloo—chicken pizza. A Caribbean curry shrimp one. A Chilean sea bass pizza, although she warned her friends that Chilean sea bass were endangered and forced the restaurant to change to Corvina from Panama. Her favorite was the French one—garlic and Roquefort cheese. The apartment stunk for a week after that one. Maria’s pizza was a thin crust; actually a large tortilla Laura figured. She used local products; goat cheese for the base, a home made tomato sauce, poblano peppers —previously baked and skinned—, sliced plantain and carrots. Half the pizza was covered with a salsa of some sort and the other half a spicy guacamole. There was no meat, but she didn’t really miss the meat she had tried here. Unless it was stewed for hours, it didn’t match the tenderness of the Alberta beef she and her Mom used to buy.

“Has it been so bad here?” Doughty asked as Laura tucked into her second slice.

“At first I wasn’t sure. They didn’t have to kidnap me you know? I would have visited here if they had asked,” she lied. “But now it is okay.” She lied again. “I’ve made some good friends. Especially the other girls from around the world.”

“Well look, your Father always has the best interests of the girls in mind.”

Doughty decided to end the evening.

“We always have visitors from around the world to the school. Many are donors to the foundation that funds the school. And we have some visitors in a couple of days for the Board meeting.” She made no mention of Mason. “Look. They will want to meet you for sure, so why don’t you get another good sleep and we can chat more tomorrow.” She reached into her pocket and handed Laura a small blue pill. “Here. Take this. It will help you sleep.”

Laura took the pill and put it in her mouth, declining the glass of water that Doughty offered to wash it down. “Thanks for talking with me Mary Ann.” She gave her a hug. “I feel better now. See you tomorrow.”

Laura had no interest in more sleep. She realized she had been given one of these pills when she came home from the walk yesterday and it had kept her out for almost 24 hours. The first thing she did after she closed her bedroom door was to move into the corner of the room where the camera she had found couldn’t see her, and spit out the pill. It took her a week to figure out where to move so the camera hidden in the painting of a bullfighter’s head could not see her. She had only found the camera by accident when she was exploring ways to get out of the room. It was well hidden in the left eye of the man and you would easily miss it if you were not actually looking at the painting up close and could see that one eye wasn’t focused on the charging bull. She guessed it was about a thirty millimetre, wide angle, lens aimed at the bed where someone could watch her sleep—and undress. Then she waited a few moments and tried the door handle. It was locked. Despite her Grandfather’s promises, she had not yet been allowed to join the other girls either for dinner or to sleep. The other foreign girls occupied a special wing of the girl’s dormitory, one hundred yards down the road towards town from the school. Manuela —the Mexican girl—had stayed in one of the rooms as well, but had been moved to the dorm a week after Laura arrived.

After Laura discovered the camera, she started sleeping with the blankets over her head. At the same time, she broke a small sliver of wood from the bed frame and jammed it in the door latch. You couldn’t see it unless you were looking for it, but it meant that while the door handle was locked so it would not move, the latch didn’t actually bite, so the door could be opened with a gentle shove. She also found out where the wire was attached to the camera behind the painting. One night after she had been there for three weeks she brought it all together. She undressed in front of the camera —keeping her back to the lens—put on her pajamas and pulled back the sheets. She went to the wire behind the painting and pulled it out of the camera. Then she quickly went to the bed and stuffed the bed with pillows to look like a body covered head to foot. It was only a few seconds before she reattached the wire and stood out of camera range. She hoped they would write off the momentary blip as something electrical and not bother to check her. She did not move for ten minutes, but no one came to check her so she was right. She waited until she figured both Doughty and Lucinda had left, and gently pushed the door open. The living room and kitchen area were dark and quiet. On that first night she walked down the road to the dormitory but turned around and went back to her room when she saw the guard. Since then she had only done it two other times. Once she had made her way around the guard and made it to the foreign girls dorm. Tonight she tiptoed around and put her ear up to each of the villa bedroom doors and listened for any sound. She heard nothing so it appeared that no one else was staying at the villa that night.

She had earlier heard Doughty send the inside guard outside and Lucinda, the cook, home. “Alex, join the outside patrol tonight,” she had ordered. “You can see that the girl is sleeping. I gave her a pill. Stay out on the front porch tonight and worry about the group that attacked Senor Alvarez, not her.”

Laura figured they must have been watching her in the theatre room, as Doughty called it. The door was unlocked. She entered the dark windowless room. She did not want to turn the lights on even though she guessed the sealing around the door would keep the light in as well as out. She reached for the remote on the table in front of the theatre style chairs and by braille found and pushed the power button. The screen came to life with a live view of her —her dummy—lying in her bed with her head covered up. Doughty and Alex must have been here looking when she told him to go outside.

She smiled smugly at the scene. “Fooled ya didn’t I,” she announced. She wasn’t tired and since there didn’t seem to be anyone else in the villa she figured she might as well watch one of the movies that she knew were stored on the receiver. She would watch “The Hunger Games” again. It was her favorite movie and Jennifer Lawrence was her heroine. She could not shoot a bow and arrow, but when she first got to the school she imagined breaking out of the villa and beating up all the guards and freeing all of the imprisoned girls. Now she realized that the girls did not want to be freed. She was not even sure about herself. She pushed the input button on the remote. It was almost the same process as on the Shaw remote that her mom had in the apartment. There were several more inputs than the ones for the DVD player and the cable. They were labeled in Spanish so she was not quite sure what they meant but she was used to the buttons from home. She picked the one labeled libra; the most likely place for stored movies she figured. In seconds a list of names appeared on the screen; Manuela, Hakina, Francoise, Samantha, Esse and eight others. The last name was hers. Hunger Games wasn’t there. She moved the cursor to Manuela and pushed enter. The video started with Manuela walking across the schoolyard towards the camera. She stopped in front of the camera and introduced herself in heavily Spanish accented English.

Hola. My Name is Manuela and I am thirteen years old and a student here at the school. My favorite subjects are English —I am doing okay eh?” She giggled as she looked at someone off -camera — and the sports.” The picture shifted to close up videos of Manuela playing football, followed by one of her doing some gymnastics in the gym. My favorite movie is Despicable Me and my favorite singer is Justin Bieber.”

Laura recognized the video that each of the international girls was asked to do before the U.N. visit. It was supposedly for promotion of the school and she had done one as well. Doughty supervised the taping. She had never seen the one she made so she decided she would look at hers after watching Manuela’s. Laura stiffened in her chair as the scene shifted from the schoolyard to one of the bedroom villas. While Manuela continued to talk about her favorite books, actresses and school subjects, the video showed her getting undressed in her room. It was the same camera view that Laura decided was provided by the camera in her room. She had never imagined that anyone was taping what he or she saw. The scene shifted to the bathroom where another camera showed Manuela languishing in a tub full of bubble bath. Doughty had given her some of the bubble bath as well. Laura pressed the fast forward button and skimmed over multiple scenes of Manuela in her bedroom and her bathroom, undressing, dressing and languishing on the bed in her underclothes —sometimes naked—reading or doing her hair. The video was twenty minutes long. The last scene was a close up of Manuela’s face. “I would look forward to seeing you at the school and showing you around,” she offered with a warm smile.”

Doughty had asked them all to say that at the end of the taping session. “Look. To invite the U.N. or other visitors to come anytime,” she had said.

Laura was shaking as she fumbled with the remote control and scrolled down to Hidake’s name, then to Francisco’s and Samantha’s. The videos were all the same. Finally she scrolled to her name and pressed the button. The screen was blank. There wasn’t anything recorded of her, yet her name on the list suggested that there was a place for her in the video bank. Suddenly she felt sick and needed some fresh air. She quickly turned off the TV and left the room, quietly closing the door behind her. She knew that Alex would be guarding the front door so she couldn’t go that way. Her usual way to leave the villa was by one of the large sliding doors that opened up to the outside from the kitchen area. Even when Alex was in the villa at night he was usually asleep on the chesterfield facing the wall away from the door and she could slip away without him noticing.

When she was outside and closed the sliding door she leaned over the porch railing and retched. See wiped her mouth with the hem of her pajama top. She sat down on the stairs leading to the Hibiscus hedge that surrounded the porch and for the first time since she had woken up in this strange country she was scared. She closed her eyes and started to sob. She stifled her sobs when she suddenly heard voices from the front door of the villa. “Shit. They have missed me,” she thought. She wondered if she should run now. Take her chances with the jungle. She waited for the sounds of the front door opening and the panicked rush to her room, but the voices stayed on the front section of the porch. She got down and crawled along the ground on the side of the hedge hidden from the porch. She stopped when she was directly on the other side of the hedge from the front door. Both the hedge and the darkness hid her presence. The porch was brightly light. She recognized Doughty standing closest to the front door. Alex was standing by her side two metres along the villa wall.

“Is she asleep?”

“Out like a light. The pill worked. I checked the screen before I came out.”

“Is the pack still in the safe?”

“Sure. I haven’t touched it.”

“What about the video disc?”

“On the table by the TV.” Alex didn’t tell Doughty that he had been watching the videos himself before he came outside.

“Wonder where those girls and the Pastor guy went?”

“They lit out of here in that Rover as if someone was chasing them. Somewhere in the U.S. by now I would guess. Probably caught that morning air shuttle to Guatemala City and then the first plane back to the U.S. The women said they wouldn’t be back. The Pastor stayed in the truck. Didn’t look happy.”

“Look. No big deal. They will send a couple of more young Christians to save the Indians and keep us in business. No shortage of either.”

“Either?”

“Do-gooder North Americans and business for the drugs.”

“Ha!” Alex laughed as if he just got the joke. “I still don’t understand why we don’t just go meet Morales ourselves and pick up the drugs.”

“The boss simply wants another layer of people between us and the gangs. Keeps us one layer away from any trouble or discovery. Besides. Do you really want to deal face to face with Morales?”

Alex shuddered and shook his head. “That man is nuts. Killed many people I am told. All the border villages are scared shitless of him. Me too.”

“Right. So we will let God’s chosen people do the work in the jungle. Look. We just have to store the stuff until it is picked up in three days. The videos as well. I don’t really like having that crap lying around either.”

“Why don’t we just send the stuff over the internet? It is all digital isn’t it? Why the hard copy?”

“Too risky. Apparently nothing sent on the Internet from Guatemala is secure. So the disc will be delivered to some secure server somewhere in the world, and be shared —sold I guess—from there.”

“What about the videos of the new girl—the granddaughter?”

“They don’t go with the rest yet. Not until her father comes back.”

They left the porch and went into the villa. Laura suddenly wondered if she left the TV on the live feed of her room. That was probably where Alex had left it. She decided that it didn’t matter.

Her second deep breath was smothered by a large hand that covered her mouth and yanked her away from the hedge towards the darkness of the jungle. She reached around and instinctively struck out at the arm that reached around her left side while the other pulled her head back tightly against a large chest. Then two other arms gripped her shoulders and dragged her back across ten metres of grass and through a small opening that led to the jungle beyond through the three meter Hibiscus hedge hedge that surrounded the villa

 

TWENTY-NINE

 

May 9, 2016

 

 

“This is getting too damn complicated,” Elesio announced to the empty room.

He was sitting in his office overlooking Lake Petén. The attempted attack on the trail last night had unnerved him. The sun was setting behind him, on the other side of the island, painting deep hues to the greenery of the far shore. He could have bought a home looking west over the lake, but he preferred watching the sunrise rather than the sunset. “Sunsets are so final,” he had proclaimed to the agent that was showing him homes. “Sunrises always give the promise of a new start—of better things happening than happened the day before.”

“I am never up early enough to see a sunset,” the real estate agent had announced. “It would be wasted on me. I prefer the cocktail hour on the deck looking for the green flash.”

He wanted to tell her that it was a fictional invention of Herman Wouk in Don’t Stop the Carnival and she would only see the green flash after copious quantities of fine Guatemalan rum. She was one of the growing numbers of displaced, middle aged gringos moving to Guatemala to find a life that had passed them by in their home country. They often took up real estate because it was the only career that had no entry prerequisites to fame and fortune other than other than their looks or their brashness. It was unlikely that anyone of her generation or education had read Wouk. She did have the looks and brashness, even though back in Vancouver she would be pounding the back streets of Gas Town looking for the next big score from an Asian buyer wanting a guaranteed place to rest their communist profits. Here, she was the centre of a burgeoning real estate business for foreigners. She called herself—and her website—‘Guatemala Jane.’ An episode of House Hunters International had brought her local fame and a steady supply of adoring international buyers, looking for the perfect combination of mysterious culture and warm weather.

They were sitting in a cafe in the centre of Flores. “Well I am an early riser, so a sunrise it is. I’d like this house,” he ordered as he pushed a photo of the house past the coffee and across the small table.

“Is it for sale?”

“Not likely. But I’d like you to arrange the purchase.” He had picked out the home he wanted. A retired doctor owned it from Texas and his wife. He knew that she was terminally ill and they had to go back to the U.S. for treatment. He also knew that the doctor had developed a deep dislike for Guatemalans. “No better than the niggers back home,” he had heard the man proclaim loudly at a restaurant one night. “Never show up on time—unless you bribe them. Can’t properly fix a fucking thing.” The man would never sell through a local agent, but blond, blue eyes and Canadian might work.

“Can you afford it?”

He really didn’t like this woman. She had made no effort to find out anything about him. She had made it clear to all of her staring friends when they came into the cafe that this was a business meeting, not a social one. With his misshapen body, his age and his Mayan features he wouldn’t have been invited to the weekly happy hour in her villa.

“Give him what ever he asks.”

That was twelve years ago. He had just built the school. At that time he only used the house on the occasions when he could get away from Houston. Today he was spending more time here than at his Texas estate. Guatemala Jane had disappeared after the 2009 recession. She had speculated on properties through secured bank loans and when the foreign buyers dried up she had no way to repay the loans. She was back pounding the streets of Gas Town, and Elesio now owned all of her property. He realized that the time was approaching for him to abandon Flores and go back to Houston. It had been a mistake to think that he could simply return to live in the memories of a previous life. Returning somewhere is never the same experience as the first time. And today it was getting far too complicated.

His reaction to Laura had caught him by surprise. She has only been here for six weeks but already he was feeling protective. He now wondered what family genetic defect had surfaced in Sergio that would let him rationalize the kidnapping of his own daughter? Laura and his growing feelings for her had woken him up to what was going on around him. He had long been aware of Mason’s perverseness. The man had actually bragged about it over the years. Elesio now wondered if ignoring the perverseness—“His personal life is none of my business,” he rationalized over the years—made him complicit in unknown atrocities. But he now assumed that Sergio brought Laura here to ‘give’ her to Mason. Maybe they had the same plan for the other international girls. They had not counted on the burgeoning relationship between grandfather and granddaughter so the jungle attack was a clumsy attempt to take charge of the process. Maybe the same family genetic defect had allowed him to ignore it for so long. He had studied at university that it is the mix of genes and environment that produces a particular behavior. He had never known a granddaughter before and he wondered if that new environment had overtaken the genetic defect that allowed him to ignore Sergio’s activities? He couldn’t actually remember ever being in love, and certainly never thought he loved any of his ex wives. Sergio’s mother from Russia might have been the closest. But now he missed Laura when he wasn’t with her. Their walks at the end of the day were the highlights of those days and she was why he had stayed in Flores over the past few weeks instead of going back to Houston like he should have. The attack had forced him to face his feelings for Laura; feelings he didn’t understand since he did not remember this type of feeling for his own children. “Maybe I just never got to know them?” he pondered.

Then there was Melanie. He now had to admit that she might be another reason that he had stayed in Flores the past few weeks. The visits to the golf course site had been increasingly enjoyable. Even when they fought—disagreed is a better word he decided; fighting is for people with no emotional attachment—he felt some affection. And they did ‘fight’. Politics, social issues, even golf were dissected over copious quantities of California wine. She was an opinionated and life experienced woman and unlike most women he had spent time with, she didn’t defer to him and his money and power. He was now looking forward to her visit to the school tomorrow. He would show her first hand the type of school they could visit at the Belize course. She did not ever have to know about the other things that were happening. He chuckled to himself as he imagined Mason and their meeting at the dinner in two days. He actually hoped that Mason would make a move on her just so he could watch the result.

His attraction to Melanie was understandable. She was engaging, attractive and mysterious. And still a very attractive woman. But he couldn’t put his finger on what it was about Laura that had so captured him. She was certainly bright. He wasn’t foolish enough to believe that she had just accepted the fact she was kidnapped and had to get on with her life at the school. No. She was just smart enough to realize that there wasn’t anything she could do about it. No one—not the Canadian government, not her mother, certainly not her father—was going to do anything about the kidnapping. He could almost see her brain churning through the possibilities of her escape. He knew that she had tried several times to walk away from the villa and the school, but had sensibly turned back when she saw his guards. Their walks were full of questions, but equally full of her descriptions of life in Canada with a single mom.

She was tough, but not just physically. The fight had showed him that side of her. She showed sincere emotion when she talked about her other Grandfather who had died in a house fire. It was the only time—other than after the recent fight on the trail— that he had seen her almost cry. Her performance in the fight certainly surprised him. Maybe she does have a gene or to of mine in her, he smiled as he pictured her shoving the two by four into the assailant’s nose. Even her reflexes were as fast as mine. He decided he would have to learn more about where she learned her martial arts.

Whatever was happening, while his feeling for Melanie were certainly attraction, he had concluded that he was in love with Laura; completely besotted by a fifteen-year-old grand daughter that he had not even met six weeks ago. He would now do anything to protect her —from her father, from assailants, from Mason.

“Two new women in my life,” he laughed. “Upsetting my carefully planned existence.”

Thoughts of Mason, made him shiver. He had met evil people in his life, but Mason was one of those men that seemed totally devoid of conscience. The only outcome he cared about was the one that affected him. Their relationship was distasteful to Elesio, but to this point a mutually profitable one. He had turned his back while Sergio and Mason established some sort of partnership. He wasn’t sure what that was, but it had to be either illegal, immoral or both. Elesio had terminated their oil partnership and he was about to terminate the other aspects of his partnership that involved Laura and the other international girls.

He was now ashamed that he had never viewed the buying of Mason’s dirty oil as being evil. It was just supply and demand and he was providing cheaper oil to the many working poor in Texas. It was only recently as he watched the public and brutal ISIS beheading of an Japanese journalist that he realized that his money was funding these groups and the realization added to his newly found sanctimony to cancel his oil arrangement with Mason. He couldn’t help fund terrorists. “I am not a bad man,” he whined to the empty room.

He had come to accept that Sergio was a bad person. Elesio had raised him in greed and now the greed and the unfettered conscience had produced a toxic human mix. Elesio had never given up on him. Even after the Canadian employment disasters. Even after the many encounters with the law. Even statutory rape charges in Texas for having sex with a minor. Now he was doing what no parent can comfortably do. He was giving up. He was abandoning his son to his own vices.

Laura had changed the way he would lead the rest of his life.

Elesio finished with the document on his desk. It had not taken much effort to hand write corrections to his will; he had simply replaced Sergio with Laura. His will had already been written to ensure that the Foundation operating the schools would be well funded. The changes would make Laura one of the richest women in the U.S. when he died. “Unless oil continues to drop through the floor, then she would only be one of the richest in Canada,” he chuckled.

He picked up the intercom phone on the desk. “Ignacio. Come in here for a moment will you?”

Ignacio was his secretary, manager, and confidant, for everything Elesio operated in Belize. He lived in the house while Elesio was in Texas and managed the staff and other business matters. He was actually trained and licensed in Guatemala as a lawyer, but working for Elesio was more lucrative than the commissions on Flores house deals and he had worked for Elesio for over thirty years. He would be left the house in Flores in Elesio’s will. While he waited for Ignacio to come, he leaned back on his desk chair and watched the final touch of the sun splash a dark shade of red on the far shore of the lake. He will miss Flores and the house. What he was planning would make life here too dangerous—even for him. The brief event on the road with Laura yesterday had proven that. It wouldn’t be hard for him to leave the country by himself. His private jet was always ready at the Flores airport and he went back and forth on a regular basis. But he wasn’t planning to leave alone. He was going to take all of the foreign recruited girls with him. There were eleven at the school now. Elesio had decided that he wouldn’t only get Laura out of the school but the others as well. He shuddered when he thought of Mason and his granddaughter. It wouldn’t be easy. He assumed that some of the guards around the school worked for Sergio and they would not stand by and let him simply load the girls on a bus and take them to the plane. In addition, he wasn’t sure who Sergio —or even Mason—had bought at the airport. He had no interest in spending the rest of his life in a Guatemalan jail for some trumped up kidnapping charge. There had to be a better way to get just them across the border into Belize. He knew that the government and military there would back him up.

“You wanted me Elesio?” Ignacio entered the office without knocking.

“Yeah. Pour yourself a drink.” Elesio pointed to the Waterford decanter and whiskey glasses on a tray. “ What’s in there today Ignacio?”

“An 18 year old Botran.”

“Good one,” Elesio offered as he took the glass and beckoned Ignacio to sit on the chair opposite the desk. “I’ve changed my will Ignacio. I need you to witness the change.” He pushed the document across the desk and sipped the rum while Ignacio read it.

Ignacio smiled. “Nice, Boss.” He only called Elesio his boss when they were drinking and when he approved of something Elesio was doing. “But I hope you aren’t planning on dying anytime soon?”

“Not if others can be dissuaded —and I can avoid it, my friend. But I need your help with a plan.”

Elesio described his intent to leave Guatemala and take the eleven girls with him. Ignacio agreed that it was dangerous. “You have to do it quickly. Isn’t Mason coming in a couple of days?”

“Yeah. For the Board meeting on the 12th.” Elesio was lost in thought for a moment as he leaned back in his chair and sipped his rum. “Okay.” He suddenly sat up straight and put the glass on the desk. “Call the headmaster and have the school plan an afternoon field trip the day of the board meeting to Tikal for all of the foreign girls. And we will have the usual pre Board meeting dinner here at the Villa tomorrow night.”

“Is the Canadian golfer still coming?”

“Yes,” Alvarez smiled as he sipped the Botran. “Melanie will be here as well.”

 

THIRTY

 

May 9, 2016

Love reunited…

 

 

“Stop struggling for God’s sake,” the vaguely familiar voice pleaded in her ear in a whisper. “And if you are quiet I’ll take my hand off your mouth?”

Laura was lying on the ground on the other side of a hedge that surrounded the villa. Several pairs of hands were holding her firmly to the ground and the voice had his head next to her ear and his hand still firmly over her mouth.

“Will you be quiet?” the voice whispered again.

Laura nodded vigorously. Who was she going to call to anyhow? She didn’t want the people in the Villa to know that she was out of her room and certainly didn’t want them to know that she had been in the video room. Whoever was holding her could not be any worse than what she saw.

The hand lifted from her mouth and a pair of hands gently lifted her to a sitting position. It was a moonless night and the thick hedge blocked any ambient light from the villa windows, but there was no need for light for her to recognize her attacker after she sat up and he spoke again.

“How are you girl? Been working on your tan?” the voice whispered.

“Adrian?” she whispered. “Adrian, Adrian,” she gasped as she reached out and pulled him tightly to her body.

“Shhh,” Adrian admonished as he gently pushed her away. “We can’t let anyone know we are here. Sorry for the rough stuff but we needed to get you away from the villa.”

“We?” Laura suddenly realized that several pairs of hands had been involved in pulling her away from the villa. “What are you doing here? Are you going to help me get home?”

“Laura, meet Senor Sanchez and his grand daughter Angelica. I’ll explain later. Yes, I came down to Guatemala to get you and we will do that. But for now just listen to my friend Angelica.”

Laura gripped Adrian’s hand tightly and sat up on her haunches as a young woman slid over beside her.

“Hi Laura,” the woman whispered. “Are you okay?”

Laura shook her head. “No I am not. I have to tell you what I just saw.”

“Yeah. We know all about it,” Adrian interjected. We wanted to tell you rather than you find out for yourself.”

“They—my grandfather—is making videos of us undressing and doing all sorts of private stuff,” she whisper yelled. “ Why?”

“Shhhh,” Sanchez admonished her. “If Alex hears us we’ll have to run.”

“They get taken back to the states —we think—and sold on line,” Angelica explained. She didn’t add that the videos might also be promotional material to actually sell the girls. “Has he made a video of you yet?”

“I don’t think so,” she hesitated. “I don’t know. The video under my name was blank.”

“Good. Do you know if there are any visitors planned for the next while?”

“I heard them say that there is a Board meeting in three days. There will be visitors coming from the U.S. and Guatemala City.”

“We have to stop them taping and selling these videos.” Laura tried to get up but the firm hands continued to hold her tightly. “It isn’t right,” she pleaded.

“We will. But we need to talk to you first. You clearly have a way of leaving your room. We’ve known about your nightly walks for a while now. Now we need you to go back to your room and help us out. Listen carefully. We could get you away tonight, but we want to get all of the international girls out of here. They are the only ones that have been used and are at continued risk. Are you willing to help?”

Laura looked at Adrian and he nodded. She paused. “What do you mean continued risk? Does it have anything to do with the attack on me and my Grandpa?”

Adrian looked at Sanchez and Angelica.

“We just heard about that Laura,” Angelica responded. “We know it was the Zetas but we don’t know why they attacked. It could be that someone wanted you for more than videos.”

“That is the risk you mean? Someone wants to take away all the international girls?”

“We don’t know yet Laura. But we have been told that on the afternoon of the board meeting you will be going on a field trip to Tikal with all eleven of the other foreign girls. Adrian will make contact with you at sometime during the tour.” The woman paused while Laura absorbed the directions. “If all goes well you will be in Belize that night and home in a day or two after that.”

“Okay?” Adrian interjected.

“All the girls?”

“All the foreign girls.”

“Who are you people anyhow?”

“We work for the Guatemalan government?”

“Then why can’t you just arrest them all?”

Sanchez and Angelica looked at each other. “It is complicated. But as I said, everyone is after the end of the food chain, not the start. You’ll just have to accept that this is the best way for everyone.”

“We need you to do two other things Laura, “Sanchez whispered. “First and most importantly, don’t let anyone know that you found the videos. If they think you know about them it could put you in danger. Can you hide that?”

“Of course I can. I am not a child.” She thought his tone was a little solicitous. “What else?”

Angelica continued. “A yellow backpack was dropped off at the villa. Did you see it?”

“Yeah. A big one with a MEC label on the flap. I saw it in the front hall when two women dropped it off.”

Sanchez and Angelica looked at each other. “I told you she was smart,” Adrian whispered.

“Good,” Angelica offered in a professional tone. “We want you to find out where they hide that pack in the villa, and then watch tomorrow to see who picks it up.”

“What about the videos?”

Adrian took over. “The videos are on a small external hard drive the size of a cigarette box, and we suspect that the videos will be picked up at the same time as the yellow bag. We want to find out who it is that transports the video —and the backpack—away from here.”

“How do you know the size of the drive? What’s in the pack?”

“Drugs. Cocaine.” Angelica ignored the first question. “This place is apparently one stop on the stuff’s complicated and twisted journey to the streets in the U.S. and Canada. Like the videos, we aren’t that interested in the various ‘mules’ —like Doughty or the fake fundamentalists, or even the preacher—but rather the end of the chain. We are after the one who takes the drugs out of Guatemala, and the one who provides the server for the videos. As we said, we think that they are the same individual. Once we learn that, then the FBI—or it is equivalent if they head to another country— can swoop in and take over.”

“Go back to your room now Laura,” Sanchez offered. “But we wonder if you can get back into the room with the safe and replace the hard disc with the videos on it with this drive. It is identical to the one in the room.” He handed her a cigarette sized external drive with WD printed on the side. “This one has a tracking device on it and some other technical things that will help authorities find the server that distributes this stuff. Bring the original drive with you tomorrow.” He paused while Laura took the drive from his hand. “

“Why don’t you just go in now and do it? Why do you need me?”

“Too risky. As you know there are cameras everywhere. We can’t be seen or recognized, but it wouldn’t be out of place to have you seen. If we were seen tonight it would risk the whole operation and the world would lose this opportunity to stop both the drugs and the videos. If you are seen it would just be you trying to escape or something. Nothing suspicious.”

Laura nodded.

“Can you get back in quietly now? Without being seen?”

“Yeah,” she nodded again.

Adrian gave her another hug and then the three of them crawled away from the hedge into the darkness of the field of weed beyond. Laura gathered herself, stood and tiptoed and along the edge of the hedge until she reached the small opening in the barrier that she had used on several of her night adventures. She watched through the glass sliding doors as Doughty went into the television room and closed the door behind her. Laura waited few moments and then decided that Doughty was staying in the room watching TV and this was her chance to get in. She carefully slid the glass door a few centimetres and listened. There was no sound from the TV room so she waited before trying to get in. A few moments later she heard sound from the TV and she glided silently to her room. Her bed was still stuffed with the fake body.

She followed her usual routine of briefly unplugging the camera while she removed the stuffing from the bed. She activated the camera to show herself going to the bathroom. She waited in the bathroom for a few moments but no one came into the room or knocked on the door so she knew that either no one was watching or her actions looked innocent enough. When she looked at her pajamas she realized that she was lucky that no one was looking too carefully or they would have seen the wide streaks of mud and dirt all up her back. She took off her pajamas and carefully wiped the mud away. It still left a vague brown streak that she would have trouble explaining, but she would worry about that tomorrow.

Sleep didn’t come easily. She was only now starting to truly process what she had seen in the TV room before Adrian and his friends yanked her away. Her mind alternated between the image of Francoise lying in her bathtub, and her imagining one of the guards watching the video. It was the image of Francoise that wouldn’t dissolve in sleep. With the knowledge of what she saw came the full realization of what was going on at the villa and why she had been locked in her room every night and not permitted to sleep with the other girls in the dorm. When she had arrived three of the foreign girls had been staying in one of the rooms as well, although all three were moved to the dorm the day after.

Now she knew why.

She still had not processed the fact that Adrian was here. Or that he was with some people from the Guatemalan government. She couldn’t even imagine how this was possible and questioned for a moment if she had dreamed it all, but the residual, spicy smell of the hand that was clasped over her mouth was real. Adrian was here and was going to help her go home.

Without finding the videos she might actually have had some mixed feelings about leaving the school. At first she had fought being here. She had presumed that was the reason they locked her in the room. But she had gradually accepted the school routine and enjoyed her time with the other girls, both local and international. There were even some great teachers at the school. The science facilities were actually far better than the ones back at her school in Calgary. She was also surprised that they were all allowed access to the Internet. She could do any search she wanted, just couldn’t connect to any social media sites and she could download but not upload. This was strange but justified by the school’s view that social media was distracting from learning and social development. She wondered what would happen if the girls she knew in Calgary were told that they couldn’t use text, email, twitter, Facebook, Instagram or any of the other social media apps that pop up daily. But the only bad thing she could ever tell people was that she was locked in her room at night—and was away from her mother. Elesio and Doughty had told her it was for her own safety but she now knew that was not the case.

She wondered what her grandfather knew of all of this. She felt betrayed that the man that she had walked and talked —and fought—with would sanction making these videos. The apple does not fall far from the tree, as her mother used to say. When she had a chance she would exchange the drives as they asked and expose them all. She figured that Doughty would help her once she knew what her grandfather was doing.

Satisfied that she had a plan she drifted off to sleep. The image of Francoise in the bathroom would haunt her dreams.

THIRTY-ONE

 

May 11th

The dinner party…

 

 

It was dusk as the single engine Piper landed at the small, but international standard, airport three kilometres outside of the town. They had to circle the airport for ten minutes while they waited for a Lear to land and clear the runway. The setting sun glinted off the mirrored fuselage of the Lear as it entered the airspace below the Piper and dropped to the runway on a first approach.

“They have done that before,” Melanie observed, as they watched the quick landing and the turn off the runway to go into a hanger at the far end of the tarmac from the public terminal. “Looks like a private hanger there.”

“We’re going there as well,” the pilot of the Piper announced through the headphones they both wore. “It is owned by Senor Elesio and he keeps his own planes there.”

“Planes?” Melanie interjected.

“Three. This one we use for flights around neighboring airports. Like our visits to you. Mostly Belize and Guatemala City. This and the Beaver are the ones that I fly. He has his own Lear for his trips to Houston —even to Europe—and has another pilot for that.”

“Beaver?” Melanie was surprised. “You have a Beaver down here?”

“You know the plane?”

“There are many in Canada. Where I come from they use them to fly into remote northern areas. How old is the one you use?”

“Built in ’48. We use it when someone wants go to one of the villages north of Tikal. Many are on a lake of some sort and the float Beaver is perfect for those trips.”

“Where did you learn to fly one?”

“Thunder Bay. Six hundred hours flying fishermen and government officials into places like Sioux Lookout, Slate Falls and Shebandewan. You ever heard of them?”.

Melanie smiled. “Are you Canadian?”

“No. I am Guatemalan. Senor Elesio sponsored me to go to flight school at the college in North Bay. Know where that is?”

“Vaguely,” Melanie replied.

The pilot continued in Spanish. “I did some flight training with some oil company that Senor Elesio owned and then he got me placed with a small airline —Moose Air—in Thunder Bay. Then he bought the same Beaver I was flying with the company and brought me back here with the plane.”

They continued to circle, waiting for the ‘all clear’ from the tower.

“He is a good boss?” Melanie probed in Spanish as well.

“Your Spanish is good. Where did you learn it?”

“I spent some years in Mexico.”

“A very good man. He is more like a father to me—and to many of us who he helped get an education and jobs and all sorts of things. Even after his many years in Houston he has never forgotten where he came from. The only reason we have the Beaver is to fly medical supplies and such into the isolated villages. We sometimes do medical evacs as well.”

“Isn’t that a little risky with all the drug gangs in the North?”

“Yeah, there is a lot of drug activity near the Mexican border. A lot of Mexican ex-military run the border gangs—and the villages. But no one has ever shot at us yet so it can’t be that bad.”

Melanie raised her eyebrows. “He sounds like quite a guy.”

The pilot touched something near his ear. “Roger that. Tango whiskey dog seven seven niner starting easterly approach.” He put both hands on the yoke as the plane banked to line up with the approach. “Yeah. Even funds a school for poor and abandoned young girls. Okay. We’ll be on the ground in a moment. Someone will pick you up in the hanger.”

There was no more conversation as the plane approached the runway and touched down with a subtle bounce at the end of the ten thousand foot runway. The pilot drove the Piper directly to the private hanger at the opposite end of the runway. Now that they were on the ground, Melanie could see there were three large sliding doors to the hanger that was two planes deep, making room for six small Lear jet sized planes. The one on the right was open as they approached and was quickly slid closed after the plane pulled into the hanger and stopped in front of a jet parked at the back of the hanger. It wasn’t the one they watched land. It was blue not silver, and logoed with the insignia of Elesio’s Houston oil company. The Lear that landed in front of them was parked in the same place as the Piper, one door to the left. As far as they could see, no one had yet left the plane.

“Welcome to Guatemala,” the pilot offered after he shut down the engine and removed his headphone. “There should be a car arriving shortly to pick up you and the other guest from the Lear.”

“Who is that?” Melanie knew but asked anyhow. “No customs to clear?”

“Don’t know his name. The pilot keeps to himself and never talks to anyone while he is here. Just goes to the hotel and stays there. The owner is a donor to the school. A real big guy. I mean physically big. He comes here fairly often—maybe once a month. All I know is that they fly from Boston. And both of you have been pre-cleared.”

Melanie climbed down from the Piper while there was no indication of anyone embarking from the Lear. As they reached the ground, the door opener for the middle hanger door clicked into action and the runway beyond slowly emerged as the wide door opened. Two Landcruisers were parked in tandem outside the door. At the same time that the hanger door opened, the back door on the Lear swung open and the body of man filled the doorway.

Melanie relaxed a little as she recognized the man immediately as one of the planned participants of the next two days. Mary had sent photos and told her this man would be visiting Elesio and the school the same time as she was. But the photos he had seen didn’t do justice to the man’s girth. “That guy will tip the scales north of 400 pounds at least,” she announced.

She watched as the man did up the button on the jacket of his crumpled white linen suit before placing both hands on the railings of the stairs that had flipped down from the door opening. The stairs visibly sagged as the man placed his full weight on the top step. With the assistance of the bending railings, he negotiated the balance of the stairs and stood on the concrete floor looking up at the Lear door with a proud smug waiting for someone to follow. The next person they saw emerge from the door was almost as large, although the weight was clearly rearranged in a different manner. It was as if the huge inner tube of the first man’s waist was shifted to the second man’s shoulders. Melanie figured that the man had shoulders that were twice the size of his waist and that the bulk they saw was more muscle than fat. This was confirmed when the man bounced down the stairs without touching the railings.

“Show off,” the first fat man admonished as he waddled over to Melanie.

“Hi,” he offered his hand. “You must be the golfing lady. I am Pedigree Mason. Glad to meet you.”

Melanie took his hand. His handshake was moist, firm and non solicitous. His smile was as much a leer than a greeting. “Nice to meet you,” she offered.

He didn’t let go of her hand. “Don’t ask about the Pedigree thing. My mother had a sense of humour. So you are the female golfing wonder? Elesio has told me much about you. Almost won his tournament last year.

“Are you a golfer?”

Mason slowly dropped Melanie’s hand.

“No. Golf is —what is the saying Bobby Joe?” He looked at the second man still standing at the foot of the Lear stairs.

“A good walk ruined—or something like that,” the man offered in exasperated voice that suggested this was not the first time he had filled in the saying.

“Right. Right. Some old writer said that. Before Tiger Woods even. Not that I am that fond of walking either,” he quipped as he broke into a laugh that made ridicule of the notion of a gentle belly laugh. “Oh and this wise and educated man is Bobby Joe. He has a last name but I’ve never heard it. Who needs a last name anyhow when you have two first names? It is so redneck don’t you think? Not like the two last names thing. That’s so liberated. Imagine if my mother’s maiden name was Jar. Then I’d be a Mason Jar! Ha!”

Booby Joe smiled. He had heard this before.

As instantly as he laughed, his tone turned serious. “Bobby Joe hangs around to keep me safe. He is apparently quite capable at all sorts of violent things.”

“You need someone to keep you safe in the oil business?”

“Ah. So you know I am in the oil business.” He stared intently into Melanie’s eyes for a moment. “And yes. All rich people need protection.”

Melanie felt the probing intensity of the stare and wondered what she had given away with her own stare.

Their confrontation was interrupted as Doughty jumped down from the lead Landrover and walked into the hanger. “Welcome to Guatemala everyone. I hope your flights were all good. Welcome back as always Mr. Mason. And good to meet you Melanie, Elesio has told me much about you. Mr. Mason, you and Bobby Joe can get in the front Rover and Melanie the back one. Drinks, and dinner are waiting at Elesio’s Villa in the town. Mason, you and Booby Joe are booked into the Hotel and Melanie, you will stay at one of the Villa suites.”

“I was hoping to visit the school tonight, stay in the villa there,” Mason scowled.

“That has been arranged for tomorrow night. Elesio says it isn’t possible tonight.”

“Then I guess I’ll have to settle for your—and of course the others—company tonight will not I?”

Doughty smiled. “Look. Always happy to have your company Mr. Mason.” She walked over to Bobby Joe and took his bright orange, MEC labeled backpack. “Here, let me take that for you Bobby Joe. I’ll put it in the back of the Rover for you.” She turned to Mason. “Mason, we will go to the Hotel and get you settled in your suites. Melanie, we’ll drop you off at the Elesio’s Villa. Dinner and drinks at 7?”

Elesio’s villa in town was designed for entertaining foreign guests with four self-contained suites —Alvarez’s and three guest suites—encircling a central open area containing a sitting-living room and dining room. A kitchen was located at the back—roadside— of the villa and largely invisible to the guests who would gather in the living—dining area. Each of the suites, as well as the living room area, faced the lake and each had balconies or decks reaching out over the shore.

Melanie stood on the deck of her suite looking over Lake Petén. Both Mason and Bobby Joe were much as her briefing materials had described. The flash drive Mary gave her had full bios of Alvarez, Doughty, Mason and Bobby-Joe. She had guessed at that time that Alvarez was the likely kidnapper, and that Doughty was his Canadian assistant and maybe his lover. Mason was a rogue oil trader. Mary suggested it seemed out of character for him to fund a charitable school. Bobby-Joe was ex special forces who apparently broke bricks with his hands for a hobby. There was also material on the Guatemalan agents that she could call on for assistance and bios of every member of the school’s board of governors.

The day before she left for Belize Mary had briefed her on what they wanted her to do. She told her again about the dark web and how she had been able to match the background in Laura’s room to the background in one of the porn videos being sold. She also told her that no girl had yet left the school, so the operation had not yet moved from the pornography aspect to the slavery part. Mary speculated that it might be because Alvarez’s son—and partner in the business—was in North Korea on Petrobuy business. They had identified him as one of the voices on the video of Laura.

The plan was simple. Find out how Alvarez got the videos out of the country so they could follow it to host server. They had been intercepting all electronic traffic between Alvarez and the U.S. and there was no sign of materials being digitally sent. They surmised that a drive was being physically carried out of the country, but routine security scans of Alvarez’s packs as he left Guatemala and arrived in Houston did not show anything unusual. However he was doing it, neither the local nor U.S. officials had been able to find out. Mary told her that the circumstances were complicated because the contacts in Guatemala assumed that Alvarez had bought off everyone he needed to cover up the operation. They had a contact in the villa that gave them information about Laura, but the person couldn’t get near his town villa. If they could just know how the drive left the country, Mary informed her, then they could trace it to the server and shut down the whole operation.

As she locked the suite door she noticed two things. First, the key fob was a six square inch piece of some sort of dark coloured wood. There was a detailed painting of a small bird on the wood and the painting on the key fob mirrored the painting of the same bird on the outside of the room door. She recognized the bird as a Tinamou, Indigenous to Guatemala. An artist sensitive to both the medium and the subject exquisitely did the paintings on each. She wondered if each key fob had a different bird matching the painting on the door. The second strange thing was that the key wasn’t digital. She guessed this house was built within the last five years so she would expect a digital type lock. But this was an old fashioned key. It was not the old fashioned key lock of the nineties, but one of the turn of the century. They were the kind of locks that her Dad had in the original farmhouse in Saskatchewan; the kind that is used as the symbol for a key in children’s game and Google images; the kind that leaves a keyhole that peeping toms used in the generations before the modern bolt lock; the kind of lock you can pick with a bobby pin —if anyone used a bobby pin anymore.

The man has a sense of humour, she admitted. She wondered if anyone else saw the irony in his mockery of suite security.

Her challenge was that after Alvarez’s nine visits to Belize, she was seriously questioning the assumption that he was behind some kind of pornography ring. In fact when she thought of him when he was not in Belize she was easily distracted from the mission. After his past visit she had broken the communication silence and sent Mary a text explaining that she didn’t believe that he knew about the abduction before it happened, and he appeared to have a genuine affection for his granddaughter. Mary had responded that the mission was the same regardless of her feelings for Alvarez. Melanie had not thought she had shared feelings, just observations, and took the order as something of a rebuke. Mary reminded her twice that the mission was to find out how the videos left the country and to get Laura across the Belize border.

The dinner and the visit during the Board meeting would be the perfect time to observe things.

 

THIRTY-TWO

 

May 11th

I’ll have mine with a shot of subterfuge please…

 

 

Melanie was the last of the guests to arrive. The party area consisted of an open area large enough to hold a dining table cut from one piece of wood large enough for sixteen people. The rest of the inside space was organized in a pattern of chairs and sofas so that four to six people could sit and chat with each other. The furniture was all dark and shiny, red leather. With the dark wood wall paneling the room looked like what Melanie thought a private men’s club on some dimly lit London back street would be decorated. She wondered if this might have been an act of mockery as well. She expected some Brahms to be filtering through the noise of conversation, but was surprised to hear the horns and rhythms of Chicago Transit bouncing off the dark facade. His choice or some staff member she wondered?

“Ahh. My golf course designer. Welcome to my home. You can hang your key over there. Do you like the delicate little bird on your fob? It is a Little Tinamou. I panted them myself. Something like yourself is it not Ms. McDougal?” He pointed to a row of key hooks hanging above a bureau located just inside the entrance. One key hook was available. All fobs had a painting of a different bird. She recognized a parakeet, a cuckoo and a vulture.

As they turned to the key fobs he gave he gave her a quick wink. She got the message. Neither their relationship or their time together in Belize was going to be a topic of public conversation tonight.

“Melanie, let me introduce you to our other guests for the evening,” he announced as he gently took Melanie’s arm and led her into the space between two sets of leather furniture. Melanie trailed behind. “You have already met Mary Ann Doughty,” he offered as he walked to the twenty something blond woman nursing a frosted glass of beer. She was deep in a conversation with the sumo man they had seen come off the plane earlier.

“Thank you Senor Alvarez.” She could play the game as well. “The Canadian teacher and driver. A pleasure to meet you again,” Melanie interjected as he took the young woman’s hand. “Every aging man should have a young and beautiful assistant.”

Only Melanie noticed his grin. She returned it.

Elesio moved to the man she was talking with. “Bobby Joe here is the special assistant to Mr. Mason over there.”

The man smiled warmly and took Melanie’s hand. “Nice to meet you again Ms. McDougal.” Melanie thought his gentle grip belied the muscles that rippled along his shoulders as he shook her hand.

“Bobby Joe is some sort of martial arts specialist. What is it again Bobby Joe?”

“Taekkyeon,” he offered as he smiled again at Melanie.

She interjected again. “I’d like to hear more, Mr…Bobby Joe?” She knew that no one had to explain any type of martial arts to Elesio. “Elesio, we were told that you are familiar with some local form of martial arts as well?”

“When I was a young soldier,” Elesio responded dismissively. “Such rugged activities are a young man’s territory, not for old grandparents like us eh Melanie?”

Melanie stiffened at the grandparent descriptor. She wondered again if the comment had been purposeful. She figured that this was a man who never did or said anything without a purpose. In this case, even after their discussions in Belize, there is no possible way that he could know that she was a grandparent—and certainly not Laura’s.

“I look forward to chatting with you about your sport Bobby Joe,” she offered, although she didn’t think the man was much of a conversationalist.

They all turned as a burst of loud laughter came from the small group of people at the far corner of the room. The woman was a stocky black woman dressed in the cultural attire of a woman from West Africa. Melanie guessed Kenya, although tribal dress often ignored artificial national borders. Mason was dressed in what could only describe as a loose fitting tent covering the bulbous shape of his body, demonstrating his girth but hiding the lumps of flesh bursting from his joints. He had said something that was apparently very funny and the woman’s laugh had drawn the attention of the whole room. Melanie thought the laugh was a little louder than it had to be and somehow didn’t match the dignity of her attire.

Elesio turned from Bobby Joe, took Melanie’s arm again and led her over towards the laughter. “I can see that the U.N. still has a sense of humour,” he quipped as he approached the three. “Melanie —I think that we use first names now can’t we? We are almost family now after all?—please meet our final three guests for tonight.”

Melanie blanched. “Family?” she blurted.

“Well, yes. You know. All the work we have been doing together on the golf course has brought us together like family. At least we spend more time with each other than with our family. Wouldn’t you agree?”

“Family? For sure,” she smiled, wondering what game the man was playing.

“So Melanie please meet Banou Smith. She works for the U.N. Protect the Children’s Agency and will tour the school with us tomorrow. The U.N. thinks our modest little school could be a model for schools elsewhere in the developing world.

“Hujambo. Skikamo,” a recovered Melanie offered as she reached out her hand.

“Asante-sana,” the surprised woman replied. “You speak Swahili?”

“You have experienced the limits of my repertoire Madam. I spent a brief time in Kenya trying to teach golf to several new politicians who had just been allowed to join the Royal Nairobi Golf Club. Smith? Really?”

The woman laughed again. “I imagine that there were many dead colonials turning over in their grave at the invasion of their precious course by some ex houseboys. My father was one of those colonials.”

“There was one woman as well, “ Melanie offered. “A practicing Madam from Malabar.”

Smith laughed again. “It is a pleasure to meet you Melanie. Thank you for coming to Guatemala to visit the school. Nzuri.”

Melanie noticed Mason’s discomfort each time that Banou and she spoke in Swahili. This man needs to know everything that is happening around him, she concluded.

Elesio moved to Mason. “And of course, Pedigree, our guest of honor tonight. I know that you met at the airport, but what you might not know is that Pedigree is the major donor to our school’s foundation, sits on our board and is considering working with the U.N., to fund similar schools all over the world.”

“Well, not all of the world, exactly, just in a dozen of the most impoverished places. Nice to see you again,” Mason put is hand forward with the back of his hand facing upwards, the way the Pope would present his ring to be kissed. Melanie took the tip of his fingers and gently squeezed.

“A pleasure Mr. Mason…”

“Pedigree my dear, Pedigree please,” he smiled.

“My pleasure …Pedigree. You are quite the philanthropist. And you must have a special place in your heart for young children—especially young girls such as those who are the focus of the school here in Guatemala.”

“Indeed, the future of our world will be secure in the hands—and minds— of educated women. Men have had their shot at it for far too long. And look how we have messed it all up. Eh Elesio?”

“How enlightened a position,” Smith interjected. “Will this show up in the Republican party’s new platform?”

Melanie had been briefed that Mason was funding the Libertarian candidate in the upcoming presidential primary.

“We should have recruited Ann Rand for President in 1950. We wouldn’t have been in either Vietnam or Iraq. And with all due respect, we would never have anything to do with the international conspiracy that is the U.N. “

“I am Canadian Pedigree,” Melanie interrupted the growing tension between the two. “We are quite fond of government intervention in our lives. Right Mary Ann?” she offered, pulling Doughty into the conversation.

“Oh sure,” Doughty offered with a gentle sneer. “Look. That’s why I live in Guatemala.”

“Whoa,” Elesio admonished. “This sounds like a conversation we should save for after dinner drinks. I am indeed most interested in your politics Melanie. But right now let’s grab some before dinner refreshment and go out on the deck. I believe it is a Botran 23 for you Melanie? The others already have their preferred libation.”

Melanie wasn’t sure of the game he was playing. He knew that she rarely drank since alcohol confused her spatial relationship skills. Botran was Guatemalan rum and Burt’s favorite. And they had already talked politics for hours.

The sun was setting over the west end of the lake and left an indirect smear across the water as the group settled into rattan chairs around a glass covered coffee table. Two waiters brought bowls of taco chips and guacamole dip.

“Lovely view Elesio,” Banou offered. “Thank you for your hospitality.”

“Thank you to all of you for your support of the school,” he toasted. They all raised their glasses. “And your support for my new project in Belize.”

“Elesio was telling me about your golf course design,” Mason interjected. “Sounds interesting. Maybe I’ll invest? I certainly agree that golf has lost much of its attraction to young folks. It is too expensive and takes too much time. And golf courses are now designed to match the egos of has-been pros, but not for much fun for the ordinary golfer. I don’t like Belize though. Too many rules. Still too British.”

“You mean not enough corruption to do your business?” Banou interjected.

“Ha. Governments just get in the way of building prosperity that benefits all citizens. The more there are prosperous people like me, the better the life of the ordinary worker. Wealth flows downward you know? And governments get in the way of that flow.”

“I see,” she continued. “That is why the ordinary Guatemalan citizen is so much better off when American corporations buy their oil, their vegetables and their fruits for pennies and then sell them for dollars? But then I guess it is all of those bribes you pay that trickle down into the economy that helps the ordinary folks so much.”

“Better than any government scheme that’s for sure. Look at Greece. Your communist, government run economies do real well don’t they?”

“Greece is a social democracy, not communist,” Smith corrected. She looked at Alvarez. “You don’t really pay bribes here do you? This isn’t Zimbabwe.”

“I don’t think that Mason meant bribes in the literal sense. Like every country there are ways that those who are of influence can benefit from their position. In even the most advanced social democracies such as Sweden or the Netherlands, I assume that political leaders will in some way personally benefit from policy decisions. It isn’t different here.”

“Except in places like Canada there are laws that limit and expose any possible conflicts of interest,” Melanie suggested. “We have maximum donations to political parties and full disclosure of financial holdings and tax returns for politicians. And so on. There is none of that here. Or very little of it in the U.S. for that matter.”

Mason finished his drink and raised his glass for another. “Too bad for Canada. Business rules the world. That is why that Trump guy should run the country. And no one should care about his taxes or how much money he would make as a president. Everyone would make more money.”

“We certainly have a problem in many African states,” Banou offered. “Even in the poorest countries, deposed or beaten leaders always leave the country with millions of state money. And other African leaders seem to endorse it. They show weak support for the International Criminal Court.”

“Bunch of commie bureaucrats,” Mason snorted. “If a leader gets rich it is because the whole country gets rich. Me and Elesio here do pretty well in the oil business in Guatemala, but it trickles down. Look at the school we are funding here?” He raised his glass to Melanie. “And your golf course in Belize. His money will mean jobs, better tourism and even another school. Unless he profited here, none of that would happen.”

“Maybe if he paid the appropriate royalties and taxes to the Guatemalan government they wouldn’t need his help?” Smith shot back.

“Speaking of your golf design Melanie,” Alvarez suggested in a conciliatory tone, “why don’t you share with everyone your final design?’

After Alvarez’s sixth trip to the course site in Belize, Melanie had spent three days combining the satellite photos of the land, the GPS mapping they had done together, and the many ideas they tossed around over long dinners. The result was a three dimensional CGI video of the final golf course and the surrounding areas. CGI technology allowed her to make a presentation of the course that appeared real. She could show golfers walking the course, ducks on the ponds, local birds in the trees between the fairways and even waiters delivering drinks to golfers resting in the outside patio after a round. The next iteration of the software would actually be virtual reality, allowing a client to actually play the course in virtual space. However, the presentation she had brought for the board presentation the next day was CGI, not virtual reality.

“As long as Mason and Banou don’t mind seeing it twice?” she asked.

“Not me,” Banou offered. “I know nothing about golf, but I am interested in seeing how the new school fits into the design.”

Mason glanced at Alvarez, “Me too.”

“It is set up in the dining room,” Alvarez announced. “We can watch it over appetizers?”

The rest of the night consisted of discussions alternating between the future of golf and the future of the world. Melanie was seated beside Alvarez at the 8-person table. Melanie observed that he was unusually quiet during the Mason dominated conversation and rants. At one point when Melanie was about to respond in anger to Mason’s assertion that rape victims always asked for it, he gently reached over and squeezed her thigh and smiled before interjecting, “The dinner table is like the hot tub Mason, politics are good fodder for debate, but sex and religion are best left for the bedroom.”

“Aw shucks,” he responded with a hoarse guffaw. “I haven’t even gotten to the Pope yet.”

Smith finally announced that while it been an informative evening, she needed to get some rest before the meeting tomorrow.

“Yeah. Me too,” Doughty agreed. “Look. Let’s make it a night.”

“Indeed Doughty. Let’s make it a night,” Mason slurred as Bobby-Joe helped the scotch sodden Mason to his feet. “Good night my little Simian friend.”

Alvarez and Melanie wished everyone goodnight as if they were co-hosts. Neither made a move to leave. When the others had all left and the Rovers pulled away from the front of the villa, they both sagged into their chairs. Neither said anything for a moment. Then they looked at each other and both broke into laughter.

Alvarez downed the last of his rum. “That was a little surreal don’t you think?”

“Do you really do business with that man?”

He got up and went to the side table and poured them each another Botran. “Not any more. And I told him that Petrobuy would no longer buy his oil. It is ISIS oil you know? He funds terrorists for a profit.”

Melanie wondered if Richard knew that. “What about the school?”

“The Betancur? The one here? I have proposed creating a limited corporation and to make the Guatemalan government the owner. If the Board approves, tomorrow will be their last meeting. The Foundation will be well funded, but run by the government. And Mason will have no more involvement here.”

“What about you? Your son?”

He took a sip of the rum. “Earlier today I signed legal documents that transfer the ownership of this Villa to my long time manager, Ignacio. I am leaving Guatemala tomorrow.”

She was shocked. “Why?”

“I think you know at least one reason why Melanie. There is no question I like your course design and I honestly hope to build the course and the school in Belize. But you didn’t win the support of the Belize government because of your expertise in that area. You didn’t come to Belize —or to here —for golf. You came to rescue a young girl.”

Melanie twirled the rum she was poured in her own glass without drinking. “What makes you think that?”

He opened a drawer on the side table and pulled out a manila folder. “I told you. I don’t do business with people unless I thoroughly investigate them. Money buys information. This is a detailed report that I received yesterday on yours and your deceased husbands last thirty years. We don’t need to review it Melanie. But you are here with some aspect of your government’s support. And Laura is somehow more to you than just another parental kidnap.”

“Why are you telling me this now?

“I think you still believe that I kidnapped Laura. I told you before. I had nothing to do with it. I also think you know something else is going on here. Your government wouldn’t have gone through such an elaborate charade just to rescue Laura. I don’t know what that something else is Melanie, but I intend to find out. But in the meantime we have the same objective; getting Laura home.”

“If this is true you have all of those planes. Go get her now and we can all fly to Canada. Tonight.”

“I’ve become aware that Mason’s bribery pockets might be deeper than mine. I don’t know if even my own planes are safe for me right now.”

“What do you propose?”

“Quite simple really. I have made plans for all of the international girls to take a field trip to Tikal tomorrow. I have volunteered to go with them after the Board meeting. But instead of going to Tikal we will head straight to the Belize border. We can be there before anyone realizes we are gone?”

“What do you need me to do?”

“I assume that you have some Canadians on the other side of the border who can help?”

“Yes. But they can’t help until we get over the border.”

Alvarez raised his eyebrows “They can’t come into Guatemala?”

“Not yet.” She wasn’t ready to trust him with the pornography information.

“Then after we make our presentation to the Board tomorrow, you take a taxi to Tikal. I’ll text you when I leave with the girls and you get another taxi and meet us at the Belize turnoff. Then we all go together to Belize and you introduce me to your friends so they don’t arrest me or shoot me?”

“Why all of the girls?”

“It would raise suspicions if I just took Laura. Besides, I am increasingly uncomfortable with the role my son is playing at the school. It wouldn’t hurt to have the international girls in a different place while it is all sorted out.”

Melanie took her first sip of the drink. “You said I know one reason. What is the other?”

“As I told you in Belize, I think I like being a Grandfather. I never knew what loving a child could mean to my life.”

 

THIRTY-THREE

 

May 11th, 2016 10:10 AM

The right hand and the left hand…

 

 

He did not start reading right away. The drumming of the rain on the tin roof was deafening. Sanchez had told him that they used to cover the tin with fronds, but that was only to disguise them from an aerial search. They didn’t worry about that these days so the fronds have mostly blown off the roofs. Adrian knew the heavy rain would stop soon so he was not worried about the noise. Besides, not much ever kept him awake, especially after a tiring day like today. But reading always helped. He had brought four books in Scarrow’s, The Roman Series with him. He was on Praetoria, the last one, and Cato and Marco were about to save the emperor’s daughter. He could use these two soldiers now.

The killing and the visit to Laura two nights ago seemed a distant past.

They had spent that night and the next day in the house at the village, waiting for some news from the gardeners about what was happening at the Villa and the school. When they heard that there was a trip planned to Tikal the next day, Sanchez announced it was time to leave.

“Best we get away from the village tonight,” Sanchez explained as the three of them squatted around a small smoky fire in the kitchen that was slowly smudging and heating a tin pot of water. “Pastor Day and his new converts will have had time to send a message to Morales by now, so the Zeta gang will come looking for us for sure. They may even know that we are Federales.”

“What about the killing? Won’t the local police be interested?”

“For sure. The army will be all over this—eventually,” Angelica offered. “Even an Indian can’t just be murdered in 2016. I don’t think that Morale’s masters will be pleased that he has brought attention to their operation. Guatemala City tolerates them as long as they don’t rub local noses in the drug filth. But killing a local isn’t acceptable anymore. There will be some sort of crackdown because of this.”

“At least the show of a crackdown,” Sanchez added. “There are still important people who are paid well to not interfere with the business. That’s why we are here —to trace the drugs to the investor, not the trafficker. Right now it is best that the Army doesn’t know we are here, although I am sure they will have been told that by someone by now.”

“We’ll pack up our stuff in the waterproof river packs and camp close to where a jungle trail meets one of the Tikal ruins that hasn’t been excavated yet,” Angelica ordered. “Its’ a couple of hours walk by moonlight and head lamp. We will then be about an hour from the main square in Tikal.”

Sanchez’s home was the last of several small villages on the road and the one closest to the dense jungle that was the Tikal Park in northern Guatemala. The Zeta gang had come from this jungle though the myriad of hunting trails that led to the Mexican border 30 kilometers away. Adrian remembered from his study of the topo maps that the village was about 10 km of seasonal, twisty road from the Tikal highway, but the hypotenuse was only 8 km from the edge of the Tikal area by jungle trail.

Don’t turn your headlamp on until we are out of the village and into the jungle,” Sanchez ordered. “And even then only if the moon isn’t enough. It is a clear night and a three quarter moon, so we shouldn’t have much difficulty seeing our way.”

Adrian guessed it was about 11 PM — they had been walking for an hour through twisting, vegetation obscured trails —when the path petered out at a small clearing whose edge was marked by a steep wall of rock covered in thick, vegetation, menacingly dark in the dim moonlight. Angelica and Sanchez scanned their headlight beams across the face of the vegetation wall until their beams reflected on a small stream that trickled from the darkness and disappeared into the jungle behind them.

“There,” Sanchez announced. “Take off your packs and follow me.”

Sanchez took off his pack and started to crawl into the vegetation next to the small stream, dragging the pack behind him on the ground. He quickly disappeared in the blackness with only the shadow of his headlamp showing his progress.

“You go next Adrian,” Angelica ordered.

Adrian removed his pack and started to crawl after Sanchez, dragging his pack behind him. He soon understood why they had taken the packs off. The hole in the vegetation led to a small tunnel in the rock where the stream emerged. Sanchez was just in front of him crawling up the stream through a hole large enough for a man to squeeze through on his belly and the pack would have made it impossible. Adrian crawled after Sanchez, pushing his pack ahead, leaving it half in and out of the water and moving on his knees and elbows so as not to get his whole body wet. The water that seeped through his quick dry pants was surprisingly warm as he continued to crawl and drag for what he estimated was 30 metres. He was focused on his headlamp on the creek in front of him and did not notice when Sanchez’s light disappeared. He continued to crawl until few seconds later he felt a tap on his shoulder.

“You can stand up now Adrian.”

He had been so intent on following the steam that he had not noticed that the roof of the tunnel had disappeared. He got to his knees and his head did not hit anything so he cautiously stood up, the light from his lamp bouncing off the walls and ceiling around him.

“Welcome to the Midewiwin caverns Adrian,” Sanchez announced as he turned his own headlight back on. Angelica emerged from the tunnel and added her own light.

“What is this place?” Adrian asked in some awe at the size and scope of the cavern in front of him. The cavern they were in was 30 metres wide and 20 metres tall with no end to the space that could be reached by the light of the lamps. The small stream raced down the middle of the room but well-worn paths were evident on either side of the stream.

“I’ll tell you more in a moment. But right now change the batteries in your lamp to make sure you have some fresh ones for the next half hour.”

One at a time Sanchez handed them fresh batteries from his pack and they replaced the old ones.

“Ok. Follow me. And watch your head.”

For the next half and hour, Sanchez led them through caverns larger than the first, joined by openings often hardly large enough to squeeze through, some only accessible on hands and knees again. On occasion they had to scale a wall on crudely carved steps to reach the next cavern on the journey. They stopped in several of the caverns while Sanchez scanned the room with his light, pointing out long burnt out campfires, pottery—some in shards—and on two occasions they passed skeletons resting comfortably beside the old warmth of the dead fires.

“Now you swim,” Sanchez announced, pointing his lamp to a small pool nesting the edge of a wall of rock.”

“Swim?” Adrian pointed his own lamp around the edge of the pool looking for the other side where they would exit the pool. “Where?”

“Underwater,” Sanchez announced as he took off his pack and extracted three large green plastic garbage bags. “Seal your clothes and pack in these. When you get underwater aim your lamp at the floor and follow a line of white painted rocks on the bottom. When the rocks run out go to the surface.” He stuffed his own pack in the bag and started to remove his clothes. “Don’t under any circumstances try and surface before the end of the rocks.”

“You’re kidding right?”

“What? Canadians can’t swim?” Angelina asked from the darkness behind him. She was stuffing her bag and removing her clothes as well. “Don’t worry Adrian. I will not watch. It is too dark in here to see anything anyhow.”

Adrian stripped to his underwear, filled his own garbage bag and watched as Sanchez lowered himself into the pool and disappeared.

“Go on Adrian,” Angelina prodded. “It’s only a few feet. I’ll be right behind you.”

Adrian lowered himself into the water, took a deep breath and dove down in the direction that Sanchez had gone. He shone his headlight on the bottom and saw the rocks immediately. Swimming underwater dragging a bag full of clothes was awkward. The bag kept drawing him up to the surface and a few seconds into the water he lost sight of the rocks as his head hit the surface —and a roof of rock. The light aimed down again and bounced off the line of rocks. He always thought he was a strong swimmer, but now he felt that he was making no progress and the line of rocks wasn't disappearing. He felt the first signs of panic in his chest. He knew those signs. He had twice been lost in the northern Saskatchewan bush. The first time he was 10 and had found himself lost on a snowshoe trip. His uncle found him walking in circles breathing hard and drenched in sweat even though it was a -20 Saskatchewan winter's day. The second time he was 12 and found himself separated from a moose hunting party. That time he fought the surge of panic, took a deep breath, sat down on a log, and took a drink from his water bottle. He soon gathered his location and walked the 5 minutes back to the hunting cabin. He knew how panic could disorientate and confuse. He focused on the rocks but his breath was almost gone. Maybe he had followed the wrong rocks? Then the rocks where gone and all the light showed was a sandy bottom, shooting up surges of dust as the tracks of something that had been there before him. He kicked his feet to shoot to the surface and dragging the bag behind him broke the surface of the water. Sanchez's grabbed his shoulder with one hand and pulled the garbage bag up on to a smooth rock beach with the other. Adrian pulled himself up on the shelf, gasping for air. Angelica followed in a few seconds. The three of them lay on the rock catching their breath.

“Was a bit longer than I recall,” Sanchez apologized through wheezes.

Adrian was incredulous. “When were you last here?”

“Fifteen years ago.”

He looked over at Angelica. “I thought you said it was only a few feet?”

“I’ve never been here. I’ve just been told about it,” she laughed.

Soon they were all laughing, lying on the rock sloping to the water. For the first time Adrian realized that not only were they all naked, but that they didn’t need their headlamps to see. He immediately turned away from Angelica.

“How sweet,” she announced. “A shy Canadian.” She rose from the rock and undoing her bag, removed her clothes and dressed. “Too bad you will have wet underwear kid.”

After they were all dressed Adrian examined the cavern they were in. He determined it was the size of a Canadian football field. It was totally surrounded by steep ridges so the only way he could see the pool they had come from was through the three metre cracks in the roof that also let in the moonlight. Adrian realized that it would be quite light in the cavern in the daytime. Then Adrian noticed for the first time the camp that emerged from the shadows of the cavern.

“Surprised?” Angelica smiled.

Adrian stared as he walked further into the cavern. This wasn’t the campsite he had expected. It was a small village. He counted six Canadian garage sized huts with their backsides bumped up against the steep slope of the ridge around the cavern. What mostly surprised him was the hut construction. These were not open palapas, but covered wooden buildings with the sides of the huts cinder block and the roofs corrugated tin. They had real doors and the windows had screens. He noticed two outhouses of the same construction. The huts were fronted by a larger palapa shelter covering several 4-metre dining type tables and a 2 metre long cook stove with a propane tank underneath. There were closed cupboards on one side of the stove. There was no sign that Adrian could see of recent habitation of any of the huts or of the shelter.

“What is this place?”

Sanchez scanned his hand over the huts. “Your mother was here once Adrian.” He paused, remembering something. “In fact she stayed in the end hut over there. She was a good cook if I remember right?”

“She was here? What is this place?”

Sanchez stirred the fire coals under the pot of water. They had found the propane tanks were empty, so he had let Angelica light a small fire to boil some water. “It isn’t used much anymore, but it is what the spy movies would call a ‘safe house.’ It has been used by our people for centuries to hide when necessary. There is no one here right now, but last year there were three Australian Aboriginals camped out here.”

Adrian suddenly got it. “Midewiwin?”

“During the revolution days, people like your mother —and Lorne by the way—needed a place to hide before we got them out of the country. This place is conveniently located close to the Belize border so this was often the last stop —sometimes second last stop—before they made a rush to the border.”

“How do you get to the border from here?” Adrian interjected. “I know from the map that we are somewhere near Tikal. That is good distance from the border. Besides,” he waved his hand at the steep slopes around the cavern.” I don’t see how my Grandma —even a younger one—could climb those slopes to get to a trail up there. For that matter, how did you get all of this stuff here? Helicopter? Why do you need propane with all of the wood out there?”

Angelica stood up and rummaged in her rubber pack. “Midnight snack guys?” She pulled out three packages of freeze-dried food from the pack. “Does Beef Stroganoff suit your palate? Adrian get some plates and cutlery from the cupboard,” she ordered as she dumped the content of the packets into the pot of boiling water.

“Propane is smokeless Adrian. Can’t be seen from the air. Our ancestors didn’t have to worry about that, but the military used helicopters to search for us during the revolution. As to how we got people out of here, we’ll solve the mystery of how to get to the trail later, but there are jungle trails that lead all the way from here to either the Belize or the Mexican border. They are rugged and you would need a good guide. I haven’t walked those trails since I was a teenager. But remember that river we fished in behind the house?”

Adrian nodded. “Sure,” he exclaimed. “That goes almost all the way to the Belize border.”

“Right,” Angelica added as she dished the mush into their bowls. “I’ve never been on the river or the trails. Most of the people who know those trails are now dead. Besides, they are not as secure as they used to be. The jungle between here and the borders is full of Mayan ruins. At some times during the year there are more foreign archeologists than howlers prowling the jungle trails. The river is better.”

Sanchez blew on his food to cool it down. “At one time there were a million or more of our ancestors living in this square in northern Guatemala. We were part of a Mayan nation of millions, stretching into Belize, Nicaragua, Mexico and beyond. They lived in these caves. They were the skeletons you saw a while back.”

“What happened? Where did they all go?”

“No one is really sure. The Spaniards and other colonists certainly brought some nasty European bugs with them that killed off more than a few of our ancestors. But that doesn’t totally explain why an advanced civilization of millions simply vanished. The best guesses—and they are still only guesses—relate to some apocalyptic environmental event that starved everyone out.”

“I’ve seen the photos of the ruins in Mexico and Belize. Isn’t Tikal one of the biggest?”

“You can see for yourself tomorrow,” Angelica interjected. “Let’s focus a little bit on the present right now.” She put her empty plate on the plank table beside the far and reached for a blackened coffee pot. “The best information we have right now is that Alvarez will take a group of students to Tikal tomorrow. Alvarez will bring the drugs with him so we suspect the plan is to make a hand-off of the drugs sometime at Tikal. This makes sense. The school takes regular field trips to the ruins so no one would suspect the trips as part a drug mule route.”

Adrian used a corn tortilla to wipe his plate clean. “I don’t understand. Why the complicated route? Why wouldn’t the Zetas just bring the drugs to Tikal and make the hand-off? Why the Pentecostals? Why the drop off at the school? Why would Alvarez himself be part of the chain?”

Sanchez pushed his coffee mug across the table for a refill. “Yeah. Some of it doesn’t make sense. We understand using a way to get the drugs from the Zetas in the jungle to the airport, or some other way to get the drugs out of the country. The Zetas can hardly just walk into Flores and check some baggage onto the next flight to Houston. So using the Pentecostals makes some sense. The rest we haven’t figured out. That is, how the drugs get from the school to the U.S. and who is the buyer. This trip to Tikal is our first break in that regard.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Go to Tikal tomorrow and see who he hands the drugs off to.”

“And follow them,” Angelica added. “If they head into Belize with the drugs we will have agents in Belize ready to track them from there.”

"That doesn't make sense either," Adrian mused. "Why would the Zetas make the hand off in Guatemala for the drugs to them be transported to Belize? Why wouldn't they simply make a hand off somewhere near the Belize- Mexico border? And what does this have to do with Laura and the hard drive?"

Angelica and Sanchez were silent as they stared into their coffee.

“What about Laura?” Adrian implored. “Who told you all of this?”

“Didn’t ask about her. An invisible person.”

“A Midewiwin?”

“A guard,” Sanchez offered.

“You really don’t care about her do you? It is just the drugs isn’t it?”

“Our government orders are to track the drug route,” Angelica offered. “Nothing else. The fact that Laura’s abduction and the porn stuff intersect with our mission is by chance only.”

“But someone sent you the pictures. And the copy of the hard drive?”

Sanchez and Angelica didn’t respond.

“Midewiwin,” Adrian stated, not asking for an answer.

“Sometimes it is best not to ask questions Adrian, just accept that there are relationships in the world that go beyond transitional governments. Relationships that help. We have helped you so far haven’t we?”

Adrian nodded.

“We will help you as much as the intersection of our missions allow. But Laura is indeed your problem, not ours. Right now it looks like the drugs are on the van that will bring the girls to Tikal, so our missions are the same. Yours is to get Laura over the border. Ours is to track the drugs.”

“What about the hard drive?”

“We’re not sure. We were only asked to see if we could exchange the drives. But we assume that someone is monitoring that as well. They wouldn’t be after the drive itself, but the destination server. That could be anywhere in the world. The ‘Silk Road’ server was in Iceland.”

“The silk what?”

“It was a site that sold illegal drugs that the FBI shut down a few years ago. This would be a similar operation.”

“Another operation that doesn’t care about Laura?”

“Probably. We want to follow the drugs. They—whoever ‘they’ are—want to follow the drive. As long as Laura is attached to either or both then it is a team effort.”

“What is the plan to get Laura?”

“Depends upon the plan that Alvarez has to get the drugs and drive out of the country.” Angelica offered. “The iPhone will track the backpack and we can see where it goes. The school has announced that the girls are going to Tikal in the van tomorrow afternoon, so we don’t understand right now why Alvarez would load the pack into a van that isn’t going to the airport and his private plane.”

“For now it looks like Laura, the drive and the pack are all headed for Tikal. Not sure what Alvarez is going to do when he gets there. Maybe he is going to hand the stuff off to someone else. We can set up around the site and watch them when they get there. You can look for a way to get Laura away from the group. We can watch what he does with the drugs.”

“What do I do if I get her away from Alvarez?”

“The Belize border is about one hundred kilometres from Tikal. Get her to Belize and she can get home easily. We can give you a car. The rest is up to you.”

Sanchez reached for a bowl of sugar packets, ripped a packet open and poured it into the thick black liquid.

Adrian nodded and picked up his own coffee. He walked down to the edge of the pool and sat on a log bench. There were old fish bones scattered around the sand between bench and the water’s edge. Adrian imagined his grandmother sitting on the bench cleaning some sort of fish that would be the evening meal for a collection of revolutionaries. He did not think that there were many revolutionaries left in the world. But then from what he read, the revolutionaries of the seventies—including the homegrown ones— were called terrorists. He wondered if the terrorists of today would be wistfully called revolutionaries someday? But today his only concern is for a plan to get Laura home.

He felt a drop of rain on his head. It suddenly turned darker in the cavern as the visible night sky above them turned dark with the nightly Guatemala rains. Rainy season was fast approaching, turning roads and rivers impassable. Sanchez had told him that in the old days if there was an emergency at the village or if someone just needed to get out, they made the river trip from the village to the Belize highway. Even that highway was a pretty muddy track in the rainy season fifty years ago, but it was closer than the muddy trip to Flores before the road to Tikal was paved.

The rain suddenly turned torrential. “Pick a cabin Adrian,” Angelica ordered as she picked up her own pack and prepared for the dash to the closest cabin. “Get some sleep. We’ll leave for Tikal in the morning. The main square is only an hour’s walk from here.”

Adrian had picked up his own pack and ran for the cabin that Sanchez had told him was where his Grandma once stayed. He estimated that the cabin was the size of a single garage in Canada. Two windows framed the wooden door, but there were no other windows. Four single rope beds abutted the back wall. Made sense, he thought, a real mattress would be pretty gross in this humidity. There was a card table size wooden table and four wooden chairs under the window. The table was clearly constructed on site, with the rough hewed wood tenuously nailed to some tree limb constructed frame. The chairs were anomalous. Even in the failing light in the dark cabin, he could make out the intricate carving on the backs of the four matching chairs. These belong in a gracious dining room somewhere, not a cabin in the jungle. He tenuously dropped his pack on the table, wondering if the weight of the pack would break the legs. He reached in and pulled out his LED headlamp. Of all the things he brought on his trip, the LED light—and some spare batteries—had been his wisest choice. Lorne had given it to him, reminding him that life without electricity will be a new experience. It was. The day here seemed to go from humid sunshine to pitch black in the course of minutes, unlike a summer evening in Alberta where twilight could last for hours. The LED headlight allowed him to easily read before going to sleep.

He had scanned the inside of the cabin with the light, pointing is head where he wanted to look. There was a palm frond broom by the door. The cabin had not been swept out for some time. There where cobwebs in the corners and coin size chunks of the wooden beams had dropped to the floor. There were probably all sorts of things living in the roof beams, he realized. He took the broom and swept off the bed closest to him. He pulled out the MEC bed net that he had brought with him and stood on the bed to put a small screw in one of the roof beams. After hooking the net and spreading it over the corners of the bed he unfurled and shook out the silk cocoon that he used to sleep in. Lorne had taken him to MEC before he left and bought him the net, the cocoon and the LED light. He also bought special water purification tablets that Lorne told him to use when he couldn’t get bottled water.

He started to read but drifted off imagining Cato and Marco teaming up with him as they defeated the Zeta gang and saved Laura from rape and pillage.

 

THIRTY-FOUR

 

May 12, 2016

The changing of the guard…

 

 

Alvarez knew that something was wrong as soon as he walked into the room. One of the small group discussion classrooms was used for the quarterly Board meetings of the St. Peter’s Foundation. The room was the perfect size for the eight-person board, along with a school staff member —usually Doughty—to take notes and record any minutes. Other than Mason, he had personally chosen the Board members; two representatives of the Ministry of Education in Guatemala City, the Mayor of Flores, a representative of the U.N. Children’s Agency, two public members —a business woman from Flores and a Guatemalan newspaper publisher, both old friends —and himself as Chair. Doughty had told him that, unusually, they would all be in attendance at the meeting. Out-of-towners like Mason and Banou had come the night before and were staying at the Hotel Casona del Lago.

The first thing he noticed was that the nine A.M. meeting had started without him. Empty coffee cups and paper were spread across the mahogany table. The group looked up from their papers when he entered the room, but no one showed any surprise at his apparently late arrival. The second thing he noticed was that Mason occupied the chair at the head of table.

“Good morning Elesio,” Mason warmly greeted him. “So glad that you could join us for a while today. We know how busy you must be these days.”

“Join you?” Elesio sputtered. “Didn’t I call the meeting?”

The others members of the Board studied the papers on front of them.

“Well Elesio, the Chair calls the meeting of the Board and you formally passed the Chair over to Sergio.”

“Yes, but he isn’t here. So I am still the Chair.”

Mason picked a sheet of paper from the pile on the table in front of him and handed it to Elesio, still standing at the door. “You can see that it is notarized.”

Elesio read the document that formally turned over the Chair of the Board to Mason in Sergio’s absence. “I see. So there isn’t any place for me here today is there?” He scanned he Board members.

The Flores businesswoman spoke up. “Elesio. We all appreciate your history and your contributions to St. Peter’s. But we all agree that it is time to move on with some new leadership.”

“History? Leadership?” Elesio quietly responded. “I founded the place.”

“Yes. And we are all grateful. But it is time for new ideas and new directions,” Banou Smith offered. “For example, Mason has presented Sergio’s plan to expand our international enrolment. The success we have had with the small number of international girls at this time has shown how such rescue missions are badly needed. At the U.N. we believe that education of girls is one of the most important cornerstones of national development.”

“To be honest Elesio,” the woman representative from the Ministry added.” The focus on Guatemala girls is a little embarrassing for the Ministry. It gives the impression that we don’t take care of our own citizens. An international school of some sort can dilute that concern.”

“What about the Belize project? The golf course?”

“We told the Belize government that we aren’t interested in a golf course school at this time.” Mason answered. “We’ll give you that project for your retirement.”

“You are welcome to stay for the meeting Elesio,” Mason offered. “I am sure we all still value your opinions.”

Elesio scanned the faces around the room. They all nodded vigorously. He stopped at Doughty. She met his eyes and smiled before going back to her notebook and pen.

“I thank you all for your kind comments. You are right, I have a lot to do. I wish you the best in your deliberations.” He dropped the notarized paper on the table in front of Mason, spun around and left, closing the door behind him.

The meeting room door opened up into the quad area in the middle of the school. It was class change time and he stood watching the girls quickly walking through the quad from one class to the other, wondering what had just happened. He had indeed previously turned over the operation of the Board and the school to Sergio. But he had now planned to dissolve the Board and turn it over to the Guatemala government. It looks like the government has other ideas. He had also turned the operation of Petrobuy to a new CEO. But he now realized that his threat to stop Petrobuy from dealing with Mason’s dirty oil was an empty threat. Mason would have done an end run on him with that one as well and the new CEO would be on board with Mason. He could never understand Mason’s interest in the school, or for that matter Sergio’s. Mason had never struck him as particularly philanthropic. He started walking slowly around the school, through the quad, over to the gymnasium and the playing field and in front of the rebuilt eighteenth century building that housed the administration offices. He suddenly realized that for the first time in forty years he didn’t have responsibility for anything or anyone but himself. He felt a strange mixture of panic and relief. He had not figured which would win, but he felt the sense of relief growing by the moment, and without deep thought, the relief appeared to be outweighing the sense of loss.

“Now what,” he said to himself. One of the girls walking past turned around and looked at him, but kept walking to her class. He didn’t feel like going to the Flores Villa yet. At least that was still his. He walked over to the outdoor, covered cafeteria that served lunch for the students. The area was empty at this time of day as the staff prepared for the coming lunch hour. He often came to the cafeteria during his visits and knew all of the staff. One approached him as he sat down.

“A coffee Senor?”

“Si Maria. Would you have one of those sticky bun things you make?” Maria had learned from Doughty how to make cinnamon buns.

“Si,” she smiled. “Fresh from the oven. I’ll bring one with your coffee.”

Doughty, he thought. She must have been in on this coup all along. She must have arranged all of the travel arrangements and the meeting times without telling him. Maybe she was closer to Sergio than he knew? And Sergio? All that Elesio had done was to create the opportunity for him to link up with Mason and shove his father aside.

“Thank you Maria,” he smiled as she brought the coffee and the still warm cinnamon roll.

It struck him that after a forty-year career the only friends he had were those that he paid for some service. Now he was rich and alone. As he wiped the icing from his chin and licked his fingers he decided that this was not necessarily a sad revelation. Friends—or family —that you had to buy were not really friends. The events at the Board meeting showed that. He still had the golf course project in Belize. He smiled at the thought that Melanie had not abandoned him. “Tikal,” he suddenly announced to himself. In the flurry of the Board event he had momentarily forgotten his plan to take the international girls to Tikal —and then Belize. He had a few things to do before they left. He wiped his hands and downed the last of his coffee and checked his watch. He had asked Ignacio to set up the Tikal trip for the afternoon, after the girls had lunch. It was only ten so he had a couple of hours to arrange some things before they left. He now realized that he might not be back to Flores for some time.

“Thank you Maria,” he offered as he rose from the bench and wooden table. His bag was still slung over his shoulder. “Take care of yourself”

“Si Senor,” a puzzled Maria responded. He had never said that to her before.

Ignacio had already packed up his important papers and a few personal belongings and shipped them to his home in Houston. There wasn’t much else of a personal nature in the Flores house. At least not anything he couldn’t easily replace at a Wal-Mart. His passports— U.S. and Guatemala —, an iPad, iPhone and a thousand dollars U.S. in fives and tens were in the shoulder bag that he always carried with him. Ignacio had also picked up the keys to Mercedes Sprinter van. He would rather have taken the Landover, but the Sprinter would hold all of the international girls. His plan was simple. Instead of stopping at Tikal he would drive straight through to the Belize border—after picking up Melanie. He should have called the Prime Minister’s office in Belize and arrange for Belize immigration to be there to meet him and the girls and facilitate their entry to Belize, but then he would have had to tell someone his plan and after the Board meeting he realized not calling Belize was a good move. Now he needed Melanie and her Canadian friends to ensure that they all did not end up in a Belize jail.

His plan for Laura was to hand her over to the Canadian Embassy in Belmopan. Belize would quickly expedite her deportation back to Canada.

His plan for the other girls was less clear. He didn’t have any proof of anything other than his instinctive mistrust of both Sergio and Mason. But something wasn’t right with Sergio’s international agenda. The latest girl from Mexico had raised his suspicions. Sergio said that she had no family left in Mexico. But he knew that everyone in Mexico had some family. And he didn’t know any government —except Guatemala—that would send away their orphans. At one time there was an adoption pipeline to the U.S. of Guatemalan orphans created by the era of scorched earth. But that was history. He also wondered about the Nigerian girl, supposedly saved from Bokul Harem. He knew that Mason bought illegal oil from that part of the world. The coincidence was too strong. Finally, the episode with the men on the path to the jungle had shaken him. The Zetas had never come this close to the school. And they were after Laura, not him.

At any rate, he would have the girls accommodated in Belize while he had each of their histories investigated. Now he had a couple of hours to put the plan into effect. Then it shouldn’t take more than an hour and a half from the time they left the school until they were in San Ignacio in Belize. His first stop would be the villa to gather the girl’s passports that were kept in the safe.

 

THIRTY-FIVE

 

May 12, 2016

Oooh…my tummy hurts…

 

 

Laura faked illness. It was the only way that she could be left alone in her room while everyone else went about their business at the school. She hadn’t been able to find an opportunity over the last two days to sneak into the TV room, so this might be her last opportunity to switch the drives. When Doughty came to the room in the morning she found Laura retching over the toilet.

“Must be something I ate,” she gasped between retches.

“You rest this morning. I’ll ask Maria to prepare something for you. If you are not better after lunch maybe I’ll call the doctor?”

“I’ll be alright. Don’t worry. These things go away.” Stomach or intestinal upsets were not unusual in the school and the tropics. They usually went away after a few uncomfortable days.

“Okay. You rest and get better,” Doughty consoled. “Look. I’ll be busy this morning at the Board meeting, but I’ll check back after lunch?”

“Okay. Thanks.”

Laura got up from her knees as soon as Doughty left. She walked hunched over holding her stomach into the bedroom making sure that the eyeball camera saw her walk past. Once she was out of the camera view angle she disconnected the camera, quickly put her dummy stuffing into the bed and then quickly turned the camera back on. She stood quietly by the door. Her door was unlocked, but she decided to wait an hour until she was sure that everyone had left. She knew that Maria moved over to work in the school cafeteria when she had finished with breakfast here. She wasn’t sure about Alex, or whoever was the guard on the day shift. She had noticed one guard always stationed on the front porch, but she wasn’t sure if there was one inside as well. She suspected that they just left the video monitor running, unwatched during the day. She patted the hard drive in her underwear. She had decided that the best place to hide the drive that Sanchez had given her was down the front of her panties. She wore her flannel pajamas over the panties so the slight bulge couldn’t be seen. It was cold and tickled her at first but now the warm, square, black drive reminded her of the importance of what they had asked her to do.

She had sat down leaning against the door and must have drifted off for a moment. Before she closed her eyes she remembered the last time she and Adrian had been together.

The Flames really suck this year,” she announced as they sat side by side on the swings at the playground. “It will take years for them to recover from the Sutters.” She always knew that a hockey debate would override the tenseness of the previous discussion. Whenever he was angry he went quiet. She liked to express her anger and as a result she sometimes said things that she regretted. He was quiet now and she regretted what she had said. It was a silly argument started in their social studies class about education for First Nations. He had argued that education should be the responsibility of the First Nations people—young people needed to learn through the traditional ways of Indigenous teaching and learning. In front of the whole class she had argued that First Nations children needed to learn how to survive in the city, not the bush. He said you could do both.

How long would you last in the bush around La Ronge?” she challenged.

Mother Earth would take care of me.”

Just because you are big and can remember things doesn’t make you a good Indian.”

The class laughed. “Lover’s quarrel?” someone yelled.

He blushed and squeezed his six three frame into the metal desk. And she regretted her words.

After school they walked in silence to their playground. The usual collection of nannies and preschoolers were there. The nannies gathered in a group sharing smartphone photos, while half a dozen three and four year olds played in the gravel. No one was on the swings.

I know what you are doing,” he finally announced. “You think a hockey discussion will distract me from what happened in class.”

It was just a silly class discussion Adrian. I didn’t mean anything by it.”

Look what Sutter did for LA? He’s the best coach the NHL has ever had. Yes you did. None of you understand the importance of traditional knowledge in First Nations life. The dominant culture—that’s you by the way—always tries to absorb the less dominant. Stamp out the Indian in them. That was the basis of the Residential School disaster.”

Laura knew that Adrian’s great grandparents had both been taken from their families and put in a Catholic run Residential School. It was where they met. She also knew that Adrian’s grandmother was now a leader in the national aboriginal movement as well as a professor at Mount Royal University. She was the one who taught him terms like dominant culture.

I know all about cultural hegemony.” Another word his grandmother had taught him. They had discussed this before. “My father’s Mayan grandparents were killed by U.S. economic hegemony. At least yours lived. The King’s success had nothing to do with Sutter. How about guys like Drew Doughty, Luc Robitaille and Johnathan Quick? Any coach would be successful with those guys.”

He quietly swung back and forth, trying to see how high he could get. She realized that there was something else bothering him. The aboriginal debate was not a new one. Since they mostly agreed in the end on the state of Aboriginal affairs throughout the world, the tension of the debate usually quickly dissolved.

She tried to reach his height on the swing, but was afraid that he was going so high he might actually go over the top. He must be very upset, she realized.

Aren’t you kids a little too big to hog the swings?” Neither of them had noticed the arrival of the after schoolers, the future latchkey kids, escorted to the park by grandparents and nannies. It was an older lady, swaddled in parka and toque against the late March wind who had admonished them. She was leaning on a cane with one hand and holding a five-year-old hand with the other.

They slowed their swings and jumped together like synchronized gymnasts onto the pea gravel in front of the swing set. “Sorry,” Laura offered. “Didn’t know anyone wanted them.”

This park is for little kids you know,” the woman admonished as she helped the child to the swing.

They walked out of the park. “Want to try one of the other ones?” Laura offered.

Adrian walked in silence. He had not tried to take her hand as usual.

Right.” She stopped in the middle of the road that they were crossing. Cars going both ways had stopped to let them cross. Her mother had told her to never try that in Toronto because she would be killed. Only Calgary drivers stopped for pedestrians, even where there was no crosswalk.

He took her elbow. “Come on. The cars are stopped.”

I am not going a step farther until you tell me what is bothering you. And don’t tell me it is the debate we had.”

A woman in a CRV raised both her hands and mouthed a “What are you doing?” The driver of a Tundra on the other side honked his horn.

Okay. Come off the road ad I’ll tell you.”

No you will not. Tell me now.”

The CRV honked. The Tundra driver stuck his head out the window. “Move it jerks,” he yelled.

Adrian looked to one car and then the other. He knew how stubborn she could be.

Are we lovers?”

They had laughed and run off the road yelling,“Sorry, sorry.” They didn’t stop running until they were through the townhouse construction in the base and in the memorial park the developers had built at the far western edge of the development. They sat panting on a bench in in front of the plaque telling the story of a Calgary soldier who had been a hero at the battle of Ypres.

I don’t know what that means,” she finally offered.

It was true. She didn’t know. She could not deny that she and Adrian had a relationship. Since the hockey game and confrontation in the base, they had gradually become constant companions.

They were both what the other kids called ‘loners’. She was never part of the teen girl obsessions that seemed to occupy the other fifteen year olds in her school. She didn’t obsess about her clothing. Athletic clothing was her choice. She didn’t obsess about the boys in the class. She thought she wasn’t beautiful. She believed that her long black, naturally curly hair didn’t seem to mesh with a rugged Celtic face in a way to be classically beautiful. She was also taller than most to the boys in Grade ten. Most boys didn’t want to date a girl that could beat them at most sports. So the boys her age showed little interest in her and she reciprocated. The media stars that she studied were hockey players, not movie or music stars.

He was smart and he was First Nations. She knew that the other kids respected him, but except for the hockey team, never made him apart of their inner circles. He had a phenomenal memory and was always the top of every class that required some form of regurgitation. He could memorize a whole poem after reading it once. He could rhyme off the complete periodic table by memory. Even their science teacher could not do that. He did not drink or smoke, so he was rarely invited to the weekend parties. None of the girls would openly admit it, but she knew that none would go out with an Indian.

They had not consciously sought each other out. It just seemed confortable when they were together. They could talk —argue actually—about anything and then laugh afterwards. They could tell each other their family histories and never feel that they were being judged. They could celebrate each other’s successes—him in school and her in sports—and not be jealous. But lovers? She loved her Mom. She loved her grandparents. Adrian? They held hands all the time, but had never even kissed. They went to movies and had dinners together, so she guessed that was dating.

I don’t know what that means,” she repeated.

They had not raised the topic again as he walked her back to her apartment in Kilarney. The next day she had gone to court with her mother and had been abducted. Now he was here in Guatemala. She had thought about him during the lonely month locked every night in the room and she now had an answer to his question. She fell asleep resting against the wall, going over in her head the words she would use to tell him.

She woke as her chin bounced on her chest. “Crap,” she whispered. She wondered how long she had drifted off. She had to do this between the time Maria left after breakfast and returned to start lunch. There had been no time that the villa was empty the last two days. She put her ear to the door to see if she could hear anything, but it was quiet. She got up and opened the door a crack to look out into the great room. They never locked the door during the day anymore, especially when she was sick, allowing her to get a snack or a drink whenever she felt like it. She cautiously ventured into the room and tiptoed across the floor, past the collection of chesterfields and chairs and the kitchen area, to the door to the TV room. The door was unlocked. This was her chance to exchange the drive.

The room had no windows and was dark. She used the light from the door in order to find the switch and then closed the door behind her. She quickly went over to the TV and looked for the drive that should be connected to the HDMI input on the back. There wasn’t anything there. She looked through the shelves of DVDs but could not find anything that looked like a hard drive. There was also no sign of the yellow backpack. She stared at the door-sized safe in the corner of the room. She crept over and twisted the handle back and forth as if the motion could offset the coded security of the safe.

“What are you doing here?”

 

THIRTY-SIX

 

MAY 12th

A Grandfather and child reunion…

 

 

She had been so intent on her search she had not heard the door open behind her. She turned to see Elesio standing in the open doorway. She stared for a moment as frustration and anger took over. She rushed at him. “You rotten, evil, lying, degenerate bastard,” she spit as she attacked.

He was surprised by her attack. His special reflexes helped him deflect the flurry of punches and kicks. He was ready for the Wing Chun chest pummel and her hands ricocheted off his forearms rather than his chest. She paused for a second to get her breath. He wrapped his arms around her to hold her in a bear hug. “What are you talking about?”

She struggled to get free of his hug. “I was starting to fall for your lies. I was actually starting to like you at the same time you were taking private videos. Are they for your pleasure or do you share with your degenerate friends?”

He kicked the door closed with is foot. “What you are talking about,” he pleaded.

“The videos.” She stopped struggling. “I found them two nights ago. All of them. All the international girls. I know what you are doing you pervert. I am ashamed to have some of your genes in me.”

“If I let you go will you stop trying to kill me? You can tell me more of these bad things I have done.”

She nodded. He let her go. She moved away and took an aggressive stance.

“The rooms are all camera bugged. You have videos of all the international girls as they dress, undress, take a bath, have a pee…everything. You pervert.”

“Can you show me what you saw?” he cautiously asked.

“I could have, but the hard drive isn’t there anymore. It must be locked it in the safe.”

“Okay. I’ll open it,” he offered as he cautiously moved to the safe. She shifted to a position closer to the door. “I know the combination.” While he rarely used this safe, he knew it was where they kept the passports and visas of the international girls that he had come to collect.

Elesio squatted in front of the safe and dialed the numbers. The door opened to reveal a large compartment completely filled with the yellow backpack. The hard drive was on narrow shelf at the top of the opening.

“There it is,” Laura pointed at the drive.

“Let’s look,” he offered as he took the drive off the shelf and plugged it into the back of the TV. He chose the drive from the inputs. The screen showed the same menu that Laura had watched earlier.

“Look at Manuela,” Laura ordered.

Elesio watched long enough to realize what was there but not long enough to embarrass Laura. “Are they all the same?”

“When I was here last night I watched two and they were both thirty minutes of peeping Tom. I thought you built this school to help disadvantaged girls. You just wanted to degrade them. You are a pervert like your son.”

“What were you trying to do in here now?”

“Steal the drive and destroy it,” she lied.

“Why didn’t you do that two nights ago?”

“I was scared. I had to get back to my room.”

The truth of what was going on was starting to dawn on Elesio. His son’s venture into recruiting international girls had nothing to do with the school. His recent friendship and the recruitment of Mason to the Board completed the circle. They had some sort of business going that involved selling these videos. It suddenly struck him that there were six videos on the disc. There were twelve international girls. These six were the most recent adoptees.

“Did you see another drive anywhere?”

“No. Just this one.”

He went back to the safe and pulled the backpack onto the floor. There was no other disc in the safe. “Shit,” he exclaimed. “They must have sent a disc already”

“Sent? What do you mean?”

Suddenly he remembered the backpack. He had never seen it before. “Do you know who owns this?”

“A few days ago I watched two women —the Canadian school-building women that passed through here a couple of weeks ago—hand the bag to Mary Ann. I guess she locked it in the safe.”

“You were a busy girl.” He reached down to the pack and unzipped the large compartment. “Now I know why it was heavy,” he announced as a tightly plastic wrapped package the size of iPad mini fell on the floor. He stuffed it back.

“Laura. You have to trust me. I knew nothing about this. This is totally your Father’s —and a partner outside the school—affair. I think that you and perhaps all of the international girls are in now in some danger.” He reached into the safe and pulled out a packet of documents. “Porn videos are one thing. This stuff is another. We have to get you all out of the country. Now.”

“What about the drive? And the bag?” She didn’t tell him about Adrian, his friends, or the copy hard drive and phone tucked in her panties. She still wasn’t sure if he was telling the truth.

He thought for a moment. “We’ll take them both. You go and get dressed. Then go to the school and talk to each of the international girls one by one. Tell them we are leaving for Tikal earlier. I’ll bring the van to the girl’s dorm in half an hour. Have the girls ready. Go now. Hurry.”

Whatever he had in mind or whatever his involvement, Laura had no disagreement with the idea of leaving right away.

After she left, he removed the drive from the TV and sunk into the soft leather chair. He held the drive in his hand and stared at the now blank TV. How could the school become a conduit for drugs and porn right under his nose? Who is involved? Sergio is involved for sure. The whole international girls thing was his idea. He had also designed and supervised the building of the villa. Mason was involved for sure. He had to be at least the courier of both the drugs and the videos. His private Lear could fly back and forth with little concern by any security agency. He could now add drug dealer and child porn vendor to Mason’s credential as an illicit oil smuggler. “A well rounded resume,” Elesio chuckled to himself. Doughty is most likely involved. Someone had to handle things while Sergio was away and in between Mason’s quarterly visits. That hurt him. She was one of the original teachers at the school and he thought she shared his passion for the future of these disadvantaged young women. There would be others as well since money could still buy some peoples’ loyalty in Guatemala, so he had to assume that the guards outside the villa and at the school entrance were on someone’s— other than the school’s— payroll. Ignacio? How else were Mason and Sergio able to know his movements and plan the Board coup so well?

Then there was Laura. He had spent long enough in both the military and the oil business to detect when someone is lying. She is not telling him everything. He had also felt the drive in her pants when he gave her the bear hug during the fight. He did not know what it was, but decided not to confront her yet. He realized that she might not believe what he had told her and was surprised that she agreed so readily to follow his plan. He concluded that whatever she is doing, it can not be any worse than what Mason will do if he catches them with the drugs and video. Maybe it was too risky to take both the girls and the drugs? Maybe he should just call his friends in the military in Guatemala City and have them swoop in and arrest everyone? Then he wondered which friends might be left who have not been bought off. No, he decided, he had to get them all out of the country on his own. That was the plan even before he found out about all of this and that should stay the plan —just with a little more risk. He thought again about driving them all to his own Lear parked at the local airport, but he realized people there would have been bought off to allow Sergio’s and Mason’s export. The van, Tikal and Belize were his best bet.

He checked his watch —Ten thirty four. He assumed that the Board meeting would go to at least eleven thirty, when they would break for lunch. That gave him maybe half an hour to get on the road to Tikal, and maybe an hour before Mason and Doughty found out that they were gone. He stuffed the drive into the top pocket of the backpack, and the collection of passports into his pants. He struggled as he picked up the backpack. Once it was shouldered, he made his way out of the villa by the sliding glass doors off the kitchen, into the garden area and through the opening in the hedge to the area hidden from the view of the villa. He had asked for the van to be parked at the entrance to the school. His only concern now was to get the pack into the back of the van before he was seen. He stayed concealed behind the hedge until he reached the opening in the hedge where the lane entered the school property. The van was parked where he asked, at the entrance to the school and in full view of the quad area and the administration building. He dropped the pack behind the hedge and casually walked down the lane to the van. The guard inside the gate came out of his small hut thirty metres inside the hedge. Elesio waived and smiled and the man waived back and went back into the hut. At least that one has not been bought, he thought to himself. The keys were on the seat as he had asked. Evidently the planned trip to Tikal had not raised any suspicions yet. He started the van and drove through the hedge and turned sharply to the right. Hidden by the hedge he quickly loaded the pack into the back of the van and drove back to the road. Within three minutes from the time he started the van, it was parked outside the entrance to the girls dorm. The main road was fifty metres away. He sat in the van breathing heavily. “I am too old for this shit,” he announced to the steering wheel as he leaned back in the comfortable Mercedes seat and waited for the girls to arrive.

 

THIRTY-SEVEN

 

May 12, 2016

Never cave in…

 

 

Adrian woke as the sun was shooting through a crack in the cavern roof. He smelled the smoke from the fire and realized that Sanchez and Angelica were already up. He quickly rolled up the net and his silk sleeping bag. He wrapped them around the LED headlamp and stuffed them in his pack. His Keen sandals were still wet from the swim yesterday, but they felt comfortably warm. Angelica looked up from poking the fire with a twig as the screen door to the cabin slammed behind him.

“Morning Adrian.” She poked the fire again and sparks and smoke drifted up to the rock canopy and slipstreamed through the ceiling cracks. “Hope you slept well. Come have a coffee.”

Adrian sat on one of the sitting logs that had been placed around the fire and accepted a steaming mug of the viscous black liquid.

Angelica tossed him three packets of sugar. “Sorry. No cream.”

“Anyone hungry?” Sanchez announced as he walked into the campsite from the edge of the pool. He held up five, 25 cm, white scaled, fish hanging from a loop at the end of a cotton string. “Adrian. Go get me a couple of palm leaves.”

“I was swimming with those?” Adrian laughed. “Not Piranha I hope? Where do I get a palm leaf? There are no trees in the cavern.” Now that it was day, Adrian could get a better perspective on the large cavern that held the camp. While the roof was open in enough places to let the sunlight and the rain in and the smoke out, the cavern still appeared to be completely surrounded by dark walls of rock.

“Follow the stream at the end of the pool.”

There was enough light now so that Adrian could see the waterfall trickling into the pool from the wall furthest from the campfire. When he arrived at the place where the water emerged from the rock he saw that the wall of rock was simply a partition of some sort. Behind the partition was an arch covered staircase leading up and over the edge of the cavern walls. The vegetation from the jungle above had crept over the 3 metre wide staircase, but carvings of fish and birds were still visible on the wide steps as Adrian slowly made his way to the top. No one had made an effort to clear the vegetation from the top entrance to the stairs. When he squirmed his way out through the mass of vines and plants he found himself on a small stone platform overlooking thick jungle. No shortage of palm fronds here, he thought to himself as he reached for the nearest tree and ripped off a leaf. He stepped off the platform and walked a few feet into the jungle and looked back. Even from less than a metre he could not make out the entrance to the stairs and the cavern. He was about to crawl back on the small platform and squeeze back into the entrance when he heard a noise from the jungle. As the noise grew closer he realized it was the sound of a diesel truck. This was verified by the horn sound of a local bus. He was shocked to realize a major road of some sort was less than 30 metres away. That answered his question about how they got all the building materials onto the cavern. It was probably all done before Tikal became the major tourist attraction it is today.

Sanchez had gutted and cleaned the five fish by the time that Adrian returned with a large palm leaf. He laid the filets on the leaf and sprinkled them with some powder that he took from a zip bag he pulled from his pack. “Fairy dust,” he laughed as he rolled up the leaf, tied it with the cotton fish stringer and tossed in into the coals.

“Want to tell me a little more about this place now?” Adrian suggested?

“Like what?”

“For a starter why did we crawl on our hands and knees through an underground river to get here when the road is right outside?”

“That’s easy,” Angelica answered as she sipped her coffee. “It would have taken us four hours to walk to the entrance by the road and we would have been seen all the way. The cavern route was shorter and more private.”

“OK. I’ll certainly buy the private part,” Adrian offered. “Notwithstanding the skeletons. But what is this place? I mean before my Grandma and Lorne stayed here.”

“We really aren’t sure. There are other underground sites like this throughout Mayan territory. There is a popular one with the tourists in Belize. Our ancestors probably used these underground caverns for several things—hiding from bad guys, dry lodgings, maybe even burial grounds by the looks of it. Who knows? It was a long time ago. And I suspect that the stream system was different 600 years ago. They probably didn’t have to swim underwater to move from cavern to cavern.”

“Why aren’t the tourists pouring into this cavern?”

“Hasn’t been advertised yet.” Angelica offered. “That small platform you saw up the stairs is documented and listed in the 700 or so Tikal edifices. Aerial thermo graphic surveys have ensured that. But so far it is too small to have caught any archeologists’ attention. And it hasn’t taken long for the jungle to reclaim the stretch between the road and the platform. So the caverns remain our little secret.”

“What do you think the platform was used for?”

Angelica smiled. “Virgin sacrifices probably. Are you safe Adrian?”

“You don’t have to answer Adrian,” Sanchez laughed. “But one day some ambitious grad student from some small college will stumble upon this place and become famous. Until then it is still ours.”

“Ours? Midewiwin?”

“Whoever needs it.”

The three of them sat sipping their coffees as they watched the rolled leaf steam and the cotton string slowly burn away.

“What now?” Adrian held out his cup for a refill. “Are we going to get Laura?”

Angelica held up her iPhone 6. “As soon as we know when they are on the move and where they are, then we will move as well. As we said last night, we will pick them up at Tikal when they visit this afternoon.”

“So we stay here all day?” Adrian showed his exasperation. “Just waiting?”

“The Zetas will be looking for us,” Sanchez offered. “They will have figured out that we have headed into the jungle by now, but they will not know about this place. If we go to Tikal too early we might be recognized and the trap will be blown. They have to figure that we have gone all the way to the Belize border and are out of their hair.”

“We are closer to Tikal than Alvarez is, “Angelica continued. “That was the Tikal road you heard out there. As soon as we know that they are on the road we can leave here and be ready for them when they arrive.”

“So we just sit here by this lake all day waiting for something to happen?”

“It is on the move,” Angelica interrupted, studying her iPhone. “They are early. The van is heading around the East end of the Petén Lake right now. It is almost at the C13. Should be at Tikal in 90 minutes or so. We should move.”

 

THIRTY-EIGHT

 

May 12, 2016

Best laid plans…

 

 

Elesio’s Plan was already going astray.

His idea was to pretend that they were going to Tikal and then when they hit the C13 road to Belize go that way instead of up the Tikal highway. The Belize border was less than an hour from there on a good paved road. He would pick up Melanie and she would have made arrangements to be met by officials at the border. But as they went around the end of Lake Petén and approached the C13 junction, the traffic was blocked up on the Belize highway all the way back to the junction. After a few questions he learned that the army had set up one of their random checkpoints a kilometre down the road. This wasn’t unusual. The army often set up periodic checkpoints on major roads looking for smugglers or bandits or both. The bandits were too smart to get caught in such a checkpoint, but the heavily armed checkpoint always stayed until they caught some grandma smuggling spices or clothes across the border to trade with another Belize grandma for English schoolbooks. Elesio knew that once they caught someone—anyone—they would dismantle the stop and move on elsewhere.

“What is happening?” Laura asked as the van joined the line of traffic stopped at the junction.

“Army checkpoint, “ he offered. “Looking for smugglers.”

“Like us?” she whispered. “What if they search the van? What if they are looking for us? Or the backpack?”

Elesio realized that he could not take a chance on either scenario. It had been stupid to bring the drugs. He should have left them at the school. Getting caught with those would be serious and it would certainly make some army captain’s day. But the girls and the disc were another matter.

“When we get to the junction ahead we will take the road to the airport and Tikal. That’s where we told everyone we were going and if we don’t head that way someone will report back to the school.”

“Can we get to Belize from there?”

“Not by road unless we come back here to the Belize Highway, or head further north to Mexico on jungle trails.”

The van inched forward as one more vehicle cleared the checkpoint. The Tikal road was three cars ahead of them.

“Then we will be trapped there if they come after us?”

“We can’t just sit here Laura,” Elesio offered. “I’ll think of something.”

The road ahead to the junction cleared as two of the cars ahead of them also took the airport-Tikal road. Elesio followed them and in 5 minutes they passed the airport and were heading to Tikal.

“How far to the ruins Senor?” Manuela asked.

“Maybe an hour or so now Manuela,” Elesio explained. “Enjoy the scenery.”

Laura subconsciously reached reassuringly for the drive still inside her panties. Maybe I should just throw it outside the window, she wondered. Throw it in the first river I see. Then she remembered that she had not made the switch and the real disc with the videos was in the backpack. The one she had was the replacement.

The girls started singing Love Yourself.

“What are we going to do?”

“Go to Tikal as we planned. Spend a reasonable amount of time there and then drive back towards Flores. When we reach the C13 we will turn left and head to Belize instead of Flores. The checkpoint should be gone by then—I hope.”

The strains of What Do You Mean filled the back of the van.

Elesio laughed. “How do they know all of these songs?”

“Girls go gaga over Bieber all over the world. We don’t just download science experiments and geography lessons you know?”

Elesio had not objected when Sergio had gone to the considerable expense of running a high-speed data line into the school, or when he purchased iPads for sharing by the girls. “I thought those things were only for school work.”

“Right Grandpa,” she admonished. “Give a girl and iPad and an internet connection and tell her she can only download from National Geographic? The iPads are all full of good music. No one notices.”

The music shifted to Never say Never, the singing led by Essie.

He realized there was much he didn’t know about his granddaughter. “What is your favorite music Laura?”

“K.D. Lang.”

“Who?”

“An Alberta singer that ticks off the Alberta cowboys. She’s a great singer. She sang Hallelujah at the Olympics.”

“Sang what?”

“I’ve clearly got a lot to teach you Grandpa.”

“I am all ears,” he laughed as he glanced into the rear view mirror. The road was unusually empty behind the van.

“Do you think my Dad knew what was going on in the villa?”

He wasn’t sure what to say. On the one hand he knew the whole scheme —drugs and videos—was designed by Sergio. On the other hand he was not sure it served any purpose to tell a young girl her father was a pervert.

“You’ll have to wait to ask him that I guess.”

“Why did he bring me here? I know now it wasn’t your idea?”

“He’s your father. He wanted you near him.”

The Spanish lyrics of Company wafted to the front of the van.

“I had to tell the judge what he did to me.”

“What?” Elesio was having trouble hearing over the singing from the back of the van.

“I told the judge about him. That is why Mom got full custody.”

Elesio didn’t need any more explanation. He reached over and touched her hand.

“Well then, let’s get you home to your mother.”

Laura pulled her hand away. “He brought me here to sell me didn’t he? He couldn’t get custody and he knew I would never agree to stay with him. So he was going to get rid of me.”

Laura had stated out loud what he was afraid to admit to himself —the videos were just promotional material for people like Mason to custom order their perversion. Sergio was planning on selling his own daughter.

He ignored her question. “You—and the other girls—will be safe now Laura. We will be in Belize by nightfall.”

“How long to the ruins Senor?” a voice yelled from the back of the van.

Elesio glanced at the odometer and his watch. “About 5 songs from now.”

The girls laughed and one led them in a version of Boyfriend.

“The gate is about 10 kilometres from here,” he explained to Laura.

They were silent as the van cruised past the dense jungle. “Where does that lead?” Laura asked as they passed a gravel road heading off to their right. She wondered if this was the road to the village where Adrian was staying.

“It goes to several farming villages. The villagers also provide labour for the ruins.”

“Indians?”

“Mostly of some sort. Yes.”

As they approached the entrance to Tikal, Elesio glanced in the rear view mirror. An SUV —he guessed a Land Rover—was fast approaching. “We are being followed,” he whispered to Laura.

What are you going to do?”

“Go into Tikal and ask our ancestors to help,” he announced as he reached for the cell phone resting on the dash.

 

THIRTY-NINE

 

May 12, 2016

Let’s play tag…

 

 

“What time were the girls going to Tikal today?” Mason asked Doughty after he had returned to the meeting after a short washroom break.

“After lunch.”

“That’s strange.” He checked his watch. “Ten forty. I just saw Alvarez drive the van out through the hedge on the laneway? Doesn’t he have a driver?” He paused, thinking of something. “Why don’t you go to the villa and check things out?”

“Now. Where were we? “ Mason asked the milling Board members as Doughty slipped out the meeting room door.

Mason nodded and turned his attention back to the board meeting.

“So the decision is to double the international student enrolment next year?”

Each member nodded in turn.

“After lunch we will discuss the plan to send the international students to patrons in the U.S. when they reach high school age?”

Nods all around again.

Mason glanced at his watch as Doughty returned to the conference table. “It is 11:00 now. Lunch will be available in the outside cafeteria at noon. Can we meet back here at 1:30?” Without waiting for agreement, he pushed his bulk up from the chair. “Ms. Doughty? Could we chat outside for a moment?” He took her arm and pushed her out the door into the open quad of the schoolyard.

“The pack is gone,” Doughty whispered to Mason as they walked into the school quad area. “So is the new drive you were going to take back. I looked everywhere, but they are both gone.”

“That is about a million in drugs,” he hissed. “A million that I have already spent and drugs that are promised to some people back home. We have to get them back and get on the plane right away.”

“What about the rest of the meeting?”

“As I said, I’ll just explain that I had some business emergency and had to leave. We can conference call the rest of the meeting from the plane. Get the Land Rover. I’ve got to make a call.”

“What about the disc?”

He thought for a moment. “I have people waiting to see that as well. It took three months to make and is our only copy. If we get the drugs we get that too.”

“They are probably headed for Belize,” Doughty suggested. “If they get to the border we can’t stop them.”

“I’ll take care of that. You just get the truck —and Bobby Joe. I’ll meet you at the school entrance.”

Mason was sweating heavily by the time he made it to the front gate of the school and Doughty and Bobby Joe picked him up. “They only have fifteen minutes or so on us. We should be able to catch them by Tikal. Drive girl.”

As they drove down the school’s lane and pulled onto the highway leading to the airport, Mason pulled his iPhone from his jacket pocket and speed dialed.

“Put up a checkpoint on the Belize highway. Now.” He described the school’s Mercedes van. “When they try and go through, delay them until I get there.”

“That will stop them at the Belize exit, if that was their plan.” he announced to Doughty.

They drove in silence, speeding through the trafficked sections of St Helena to get to the Tikal highway.

“Si,” Mason answered his phone. “What? No. Clear the highway for us and send a squad after them to the airport, or Tikal or wherever they are headed. I’ll pick you up at the junction.”

“They headed straight up the road to Tikal,” he announced. “Bypassed the army checkpoint.”

“Maybe they are heading to the airport?” Doughty suggested as she accelerated around a stalled car in the middle of the road.

“With a bag of dope and 12 girls? I doubt it. He doesn’t know we are on to him. He really is taking them to tour Tikal. That’s a good break on our part. We can catch them by the time they get to the park gate,” he announced, as he turned to Bobby Joe in the back seat of the Rover. “Then you, muscle boy, can show me if you are worth that outrageous salary I pay you.”

He speed dialed again. “Hola amigo.”

He listened to the answer.

“Si, por favor. Alvarez will be in the Tikal parking lot in ten minutes.”

“Bueno. Meet us at the square. Two hours. The parking lot is too public.” He put the phone in his pocket.

“Some assistance is two hours away from Tikal. They will be coming from the jungle side of the ruins. We will just let the folks tour a little until then.”

With a cleared road and a fast truck they spotted the Mercedes van a kilometre ahead as it entered the parking lot.

“Got em!” Mason exhorted.

FORTY

 

May 12, 2016

The power of ancestors…

 

 

“There’s Laura,” Adrian exclaimed excitedly. “I saw her in the passenger seat.”

He, Sanchez and Angelica had worked their way through the 100 metres of thick jungle between the cave entrance and the road and had walked an hour on the Tikal road when Sanchez spotted the the Mercedes van coming around a corner half a kilometer away. “Get down,” he had ordered them. “Not time for us to be seen yet.”

They watched as the van went past only a few meters from their place lying in the ditch at the edge of the road.

“The parking lot is around the corner,” Adrian exclaimed. “We can get Laura there.”

“Not yet. We should wait a few moments. If Alvarez sees us—you—it could ruin everything.” Angelica was about to ask how he knew where the parking lot was, but then she remembered his memory thing. “I gather you have studied the layout of Tikal at some point Adrian?”

He nodded. “Before I came down here I did tons of reading on everything related to this region. There are lots of drawings and maps of Tikal, but not much topographic detail of the country around it. That cave wasn’t on any map. And your village is on maps, but the river behind your village shows up as just a creek that disappears into the jungle.”

“I’ve been told that it actually goes all the way to the Rio Mopan near the Belize border,” Sanchez offered as he stood up and looked both ways down the road. “But I’ve never gone all the way myself. I’ve only gone to where a jungle track meets the river and then taken the inflatable on the track back to the Belize highway. Looks clear now. Let’s go.”

Angelica and Adrian stood up and were brushing the leaves off their clothing as Sanchez shoved them back into the hedge of jungle.

“What the…” Adrian yelled as his shoulder glanced off a Fir tree.

“Stay down,” Sanchez ordered. “There is another vehicle coming. I saw its nose at the bend. Not sure if they saw me.”

They lay still as the Land Rover speed past their hiding place.

“Did you see who it was?” Angelica asked.

“No,” he offered. “Too fast. But that is the school truck, so whoever is in it is chasing the van. That’s not good.”

“What now? I can still get Laura right?”

“Maybe. But not at the parking lot. We’ll have to find a way to get to her inside the grounds. Away from the employees at the lot. No telling who they work for.”

“All of the guidebooks to Tikal suggest the grand square as the first stop,” Adrian suggested. “There is a park service track that skirts the parking lot and and the main track and goes directly to the back of the temple. We could take that?”

Sanchez stared at Adrian. “You know this?”

“It is on the park map.”

“Okay. Let’s do it. We can meet the group at the grand square. It will be easy to hide somewhere and watch for an appropriate time for you and Laura to proceed.”

“Proceed where? What will you be doing?”

“Remember that she is your problem, not ours. We want to make sure that the drugs and disc make their way back along the smuggling route to their final destination. Everyone is after the head of the snake this time, not just the tail. After you grab Laura, we assume that Alvarez will just hightail it out of there and head to his plane. We’ll watch and follow. If Laura replaced the disc we —and others—can track him easily.”

“What about the Land Rover that just passed?”

“Don’t know. Probably one of Alvarez’ henchmen coming to pick him up.”

“I still don’t understand,” Adrian complained. “If all Alvarez wanted to do was get his drugs and the porn out of the country why would he bring it all —and the girls—with him to to Tikal? Why not just go straight to the airport from the school?”

“I’m not sure,” Angelica offered. “Probably to cover his tracks? Make it look like he is just going on a field trip with the girls and then zip back to his plane when no one is looking? That is probably what the Rover is for. It doesn’t really matter. All we need to know is that he has the drugs and the disc so we’ll track him wherever he goes. You just get your girlfriend.”

“But if he is just going to escape in the Rover, then Laura and the other girls are not in any danger anymore? Right? Once he leaves, we can just walk into the parking area, take the Van and drive to Belize. Or for that matter since he would be gone, just go back to the school and call the officials?”

Sanchez and Angelica looked at each other.

“We are the officials Adrian,” Sanchez quietly offered. He paused before continuing. “He clearly has some sort of operation going at the school that requires people other than him alone to run. I doubt that they would just let you walk in and take Laura. Remember, those videos of some of the international girls are on the dark web. Alvarez didn’t do that by himself, and the drug mule route is more complicated than just him and some fake Pentecostals.”

“You know more than you are telling me, don’t you?”

“You just worry about your girlfriend. Leave the rest to us,” Sanchez smirked as he pulled two handguns from his knapsack. He handed one to Angelica. “We’ll leave the backpacks here.” She checked the clip with a practiced move and tucked it in her jeans at the crook of her back.

“What do you need those for? I thought you were just following?”

“Just a precaution Adrian. Just a precaution.” Sanchez dug further in his pack and pulled out two sets of keys. He tossed one set to Adrian. “These are for a dark blue Austin Westminster four door sedan. Belize plates. It is sixties vintage with a suitable amount of mud and rust —a vestige of British colonialism in Belize. You can’t miss it. If all goes as planned you and Laura can take that to the border. Can you drive a standard?”

“Three litre Healy engine. Five speed electronic overdrive in every gear? That the car?”

Sanchez and Angelica looked at each other. “How…?”

“To the first question, I have been driving ancient trucks at my uncle’s place in Saskatchewan since I was 12. To the second, like most red-blooded –excuse the inappropriate pun— Canadian Indians who were victimized by the same colonialism as Belize, I fantasize about owning a useless British sports car. The Austin Healy 3000 is my dream so I read a lot about it. That Westminster uses the same engine and was a British police car in the sixties. It’s fast as hell.”

Sanchez was getting used to Adrian sense of humour. “Sorry I asked. Let’s go. We will all take that track you seem to know Adrian. We can hide near the main temple and wait and watch.

 

FORTY-ONE

 

May 12, 2016

You’re it!…

 

 

“When we get to the visitor centre I want you to get the girls quickly out of the van and start walking right away to the grand plaza.” Elesio ordered. “Wait for me there. There will be a lot of people around the square so just fit in with the crowd.”

“I don’t know where that is,” Laura complained.

“Just follow the main path there,” he pointed to the road going past the camping area. “Turn left and you will come to a map of the main Tikal plazas and trails. Look for Grand Plaza.

“What about you?”

“I will stay here at the visitor centre and see who is following us,” he offered as they pulled the van into the visitor centre parking area. “Quickly now. Get going.”

He watched as Laura jumped down from the passenger seat and quickly slid the van side door open. “Let’s go!” She urged the eleven girls still singing in the back of the van. “Senor Alvarez has promised an extra hour of internet tonight for the first girl to the Grand Plaza! I’ll show you the trail.”

As the girls poured from the van, Laura moved to the rear doors and opened the left side door. The orange backpack lay on the floor of luggage area. She quickly removed the hard drive from her waist, and exchanged it with the one in the top compartment of the backpack. Knowing what was on the drive she now had in her pants made the disk seem to burn against her stomach. “I’ll destroy this disc as soon as I can,” she muttered to herself. She closed the door and caught up to the other girls who were already moving quickly past the camping area. They were just turning left to take the trail to the grand plaza when she glanced back and saw the Land Rover pull into the visitor centre and park behind the van.

Elesio stayed in the driver’s seat as he watched the girls disappear around the corner onto the road that will lead past the jungle lodge and to the divergent Tikal paths. He could have driven right to the lodge, but then the people in the Rover could easily have seen where the girls went. They will figure out soon enough, he figured, but it might give them a few extra moments to get to the crowds around the Plaza. He still didn’t know who was in the Rover, although he had a good idea. He waited as the Rover pulled up ten feet behind the Van.

He wasn’t surprised to see in his rear view mirror Mary Ann driving and Mason in the passenger seat. There were two people in the backseat as well, although he couldn’t make out the faces. “I’ve done four people before,” he assured himself as he opened his door and lowered his gangly body to the asphalt. He had no weapon, but didn’t think it likely that Mason would try anything violent in the public space of the Visitor Centre turn around.

Mason and Doughty opened their doors simultaneously, although Doughty was on the ground a minute before Mason lowered his massive frame on the road beside the Rover. He motioned to figures in the back seat to stay there. Both walked to the front of the Rover. Elesio walked around to the back of he van.

“What are you up to you old monkey,” Mason sneered. “You must know that you are finished around here now? Just give me the pack and the girl and we can just let bygones be bygones eh? Part as old friends and business associates?”

“You mean just let me go back to Houston and tell 60 Minutes about your oil dealings with ISIS? Then I can tell them about the drug running operation and the porn, though it might take more than 60 minutes to fit it all in.”

Mason gave a scotch and cigar burnt, throaty laugh. “You can talk all you want monkey. There is no proof of anything except my generous philanthropy in supporting your wonderful school for wayward and underprivileged girls. I think they’ll give me a Nobel prize or something like that.”

“You mean no proof after you get the backpack? And figure out a way to get rid of the girls since they can be identified in the videos?”

“Something like that. The videos can easily be dumped on you and your son. And young girls are always being kidnapped by the rogue Mexicans running drugs across the Guatemalan border. Your son set this operation up well. There is no one to miss these girls once they disappear.”

“Except Laura.”

“Yes,” Mason laughed. “Except Laura.”

“What do you want with her?”

“Your son sold her to me. I always wanted a daughter.”

“If I give you the pack, will you leave everyone else alone?”

“I don’t need you to give it to me. I can take it.” He motioned with his hand to the figures in the back seat.” But sure, once I have the drugs, the tape, and your sweet young granddaughter, I am gone.” Bobby Joe stepped from one side of the Rover. A short, swarthy, soldier gingerly stepped down from the other side and walked to Alvarez. “Others will take good care of the international girls.”

“Hello Elesio,” the soldier offered as he put his hand on a holstered sidearm.

“Raul. He has bought you as well?” Elesio recognized the commander of the Tikal region military. Bobby Joe’s combative stance changed his mind about taking on the four of them.

“Not much pension money for those of us who stuck with the job Elesio,” the man sneered. “Unlike those of us who robbed Guatemalan oil.”

Elesio moved aside of the back van door. “The backpack is in the back of the van. Take it and leave everyone else alone.”

Mason nodded to Doughty. She glanced sideways at Alvarez as she walked to the door and swung it open. “It is here!” she announced as she grabbed the bag and put it on the ground at the back door.

“Check it out.”

Doughty unzipped the main compartment and mentally counted the bags. “All here.”

“The hard drive?”

Doughty felt the bag pockets and opened the top compartment on the fold over flap. “Got it!” She examined the disc. “Yup. This is ours.”

“Put it back in the bag and put it all in the trunk.” He turned to Alvarez. “Now the girl?”

“She is gone into the ruins with the other girls.”

Mason turned to Raul. “Can you close the park to any more visitors? Witnesses will not be helpful.”

“Si,” he announced as he pulled out his phone and gave a quick order. “What about him?”

“Wait until we are gone. Finish him. Get the Canadian girl and deliver her to the airport.”

“What about the other girls?”

“Taken care of,” Mason announced as he climbed back into the passenger seat. “You just do your job. Let’s go Doughty. Bobby Joe, you drive. We have a a plane to catch.”

 

FORTY-TWO

 

May 12, 2016

The gardeners’ revenge…

 

 

“Pick up that rake and work,” Sanchez ordered Adrian as he grabbed some branch clippers from a pile of tools lying at the base of Temple One. “Pick you own weapon Angelica.”

Adrian did as he was ordered and began to rake the grass at the edges of the ancient ball court that was beside the temple. “Aren’t we going to hide somewhere? Do we want the them to see us?”

“They will all see us, “ Sanchez explained. “But not notice us. Look around you Adrian. How many Indigenous workers do you count?”

Adrian kept raking as he glanced around. From his study he knew the details of what he was looking at. They had entered the grand plaza from a path behind the North Acropolis and were now on the edge of one of two temples facing each other over the plaza. The plaza itself was bordered by the two temples facing each other and the two facing the acropolis. There were many such Temples and other buildings scattered and submerged in the jungle over the two hundred square mile park. They were in the ten square miles that had so far been cleared for the tourists. He started counting at the central acropolis on his left as he faced Temple One. There were four workers sweeping the broad stairs to the top of the acropolis and another six working with various gardening and construction tools around the base. He had not noticed any of them when they entered the plaza.

“Twenty two,” he announced when he had finished scanning the other buildings.

“How many of them do you think the tourists see?”

Adrian glanced at the patches of tourists scuttling from edifice to edifice, snapping selfie after selfie. There were over 100 tourists but in their awe at the experience he doubted that any noticed the workers. “I’ll take that question as rhetorical. Point made. Hidden in plain sight right?”

“Keep working and watch the main trail from the Lodge. That is where they will come from.”

“Maybe not,” Angelica interrupted them as she put her clipping shears on the ground and glanced at her beeping iPhone. “The fake drive and the bag with the cell phone—and whoever has them—is headed back towards Flores airport. It is only an hour from here so they will be there in forty five minutes.”

“Where is Laura?”

“I don’t know. Maybe heading back to Flores with the drive and the drugs?”

Adrian threw his rake down. “Let’s go. Who knows what that man will do with her now.”

“You might want to wait a moment,” Sanchez quietly suggested as he pointed with a glance to the trail entrance to the park.

They watched as the group of 12 girls entered the plaza led by Laura. Like a mother hen with her chicks, Laura was trying to stop the group from disintegrating and disappearing into the flow of tourists moving from excavation to excavation. They were distinguished by their lack of either cameras or iPhones.

“There she is,” Adrian yelled. “Let’s go.”

Sanchez put his hand on Adrian’s arm. “Just wait a minute Adrian. Where is Alvarez? Why is she here and why is the pack on its way to Flores? Let’s just watch for a second. If all is well, a few more moments won’t matter. The two of you can be off to Belize and we’ll be off to Flores to make sure the pack and disc leave the country.”

“The disc is half an hour from the airport now,” Angelica announced to Sanchez as she glanced at her iPhone. “They will be in the air before we get there.”

“No big deal. If it really is Alvarez we know where he is going. He will be watched at the airport. Someone will catch up with him in Houston.”

“Can I get Laura now?” Adrian interrupted.

“Put your head down and rake,” Angelica ordered. “We have visitors.”

Adrian glanced up from his raking and watched as a dozen camouflaged soldiers entered the plaza.

“Gradually move behind the temple and keep working,” she ordered.

They watched as the soldiers casually made their way to groups of tourists and pointed to the exit path from the plaza. Some lingered for one last selfie, but most shuffled back to the path and presumably back to the lodge area. One soldier approached a group of three visitors in front of the temple and they listened as he told them in broken English that a Jaguar had been spotted in the Plaza area and they had to leave the area for now. Several soldiers stationed themselves hidden in the jungle at the other entrance paths to the plaza, apparently ensuring that tourists wandering the adjacent parts of the ruins did not enter the Plaza.

No one paid any attention to the workers who quietly melted into the jungle background around the plaza.

“Something odd here,” Sanchez whispered. “Look at the girls.”

No one was sending the group of girls back to the park lodge. Four of the soldiers were herding the group into the middle of the plaza. They could hear Laura. “What are you doing? If there is a Jaguar then we need to leave as well.” She tried to herd the group to the exit, but one of the soldiers grabbed her and roughly threw her to the ground.

“You will be safe with us Senorita,” he offered. The other soldiers laughed.

Adrian dropped the rake and started to leave their hiding place. “I’ve got to help her.”

Sanchez grabbed him again. “Stop. There are four of them. Armed. And another eight around the plaza somewhere.”

“Give me one of your guns.”

“Just wait Adrian,” Sanchez responded impatiently. “We need to see what is happening.”

They watched as the soldier that knocked down Laura answered a cell phone he had been holding in his hand. He said something they could not hear and nodded. He pulled his pistol from the webbed case on his thigh and waived the gun to herd the girls into the middle of the plaza. “Sit down,” the man ordered the girls.

None of them moved.

Laura moved slowly to face the soldier with the cell phone. “Want to try that knock down again asshole?”

The man face turned red and he raised his pistol to her face.

Sanchez and Angelica took their revolvers from their waste bands. Adrian shook free from Sanchez’ grip and started to move to the plaza.

Sanchez grabbed him again as they watched Essie moved to face a fat bellied, sweating middle aged soldier and spoke Nigerian tilted English. “The Bokal Harem that I dealt with would eat you for breakfast senor. I’ll stand.”

Manuela faced another—a sweating young man in his teens— and spoke in Spanish. “I have survived cartel killers. I don’t need to take orders from you.”

One by one the girls moved to confront one of the four men. Several spoke in their native tongue. Hiriko made a kung foo move that made a soldier jump back, even though she knew nothing about the sport except what she saw in movies.

“Stay put,” Sanchez hissed to Adrian. “When we move it will because either we have to or we can be successful. Neither of those circumstances exists right now, so just be patient.”

Adrian was about to respond angrily when there was a shout from the soldier standing at the path that entered the plaza from the lodge. They all squinted through the jungle underbrush and watched as four more men entered the plaza.

“That’s Alvarez,” Angelica exclaimed.

“And that’s Raul Garcia, the local military commandant,” Sanchez added. “It looks like he has Alvarez in captivity. I think he is holding a revolver to his back. I can’t quite see. Why would they arrest Alvarez?”

“That is good. Right?” Adrian offered. “The military is here. They have arrested Alvarez. Found out all the shit he is doing? Laura will be safe now?”

“Not sure. Garcia and Alvarez are very old school. I think they entered the military academy at the same time. But Alvarez was selected to the Kaibiles and then left for college in Houston. Garcia is ending his career posted to the north here. I am not sure if they are good buddies or not. Let’s wait.”

The group of girls was 30 metres from their hiding place, so they could hear and watch everything once Alvarez and Garcia reached the group.

“Is the perimeter secured Captain?”

“Si, General. We have men in the jungle at each entrance. Four of us are here as you can see.”

“What are they saying?” Adrian whispered. “Their Spanish is too fast for me.”

“Nothing important yet. Be quiet,” Angelica ordered.

“Why are the girls not sitting down,” Garcia inquired.

“They have refused.”

Garcia walked over to Manuela. “You are Spanish. Nicaraguan? Honduras?”

“Mexico,” she replied.

Garcia smashed her nose with the butt of his revolver. Manuela collapsed on the ground, blood gushing from her nose.

“Where you are going no one will care if you have a slightly disfigured nose. Might even make you sexier.”

The soldiers nervously laughed.

“What about you?” he approached Esse.

“Cerdo,” she said as she spat in his face. “God will judge you.”

Garcia slowly wiped the saliva from his face. He put the revolver to her forehead and pulled the trigger. Blood and brains scattered over his uniform and the soldier’s beside her. Esse crumpled to the ground. “I have killed hundreds of my own countrymen. Why would you think God would care about one more whore?”

He turned to the other girls still standing, shocked into silence. “Anyone else prefer to stand?”

One by one they all lowered themselves into squatting positions on the ground. Several started to cry. Laura was the last to sit.

“Bueno. Now we wait.”

“I see you haven’t changed much Garcia,” Alvarez challenged. “Still the bully murderer you were forty years ago.”

“Cleaning the country of Indians like you was national service, not murder, Alvarez. But with Mayan blood coursing through your ugly veins you never understood that concept. My ancestors were the conquistadores that made this country great. Brought the rule of God’s messenger on earth from Rome to the jungle. Now you bring blacks like her from Africa to further dilute the pure genetic make up of our country? How long before that one seduces a young Guatemalan boy and ruins decades of bloodlines? Killing her was national service. As will finally getting rid of you old man.”

“That era is gone Raul, the world still shudders from the knowledge of the ethnic cleansing in the old days. You killed hundreds of thousands of Indigenous people and all it did was make the world despise everything Guatemalan.”

“Now they are Indigenous?” Garcia sneered. “Just fucking, dirty, stupid Indians to me. Turn around and get down on on your knees monkey. It is time for you to join your Mayan ancestors. Who knows, maybe one of your whore ancestors was once sacrificed right here on one of these temples?”

Alvarez had been standing behind Garcia when he hit the Mexican girl and killed the Nigerian one. One of the soldiers had been assigned to guard him and Adrian could now see the 9 mm jabbed in is back. The soldier pushed him with the tip, motioning him to kneel down.

“Not a chance Raul,” they heard Alvarez respond, unmoving. “Shoot facing me like the man you never were.”

 

 

FORTY-THREE

 

May 12, 2016

The revolution lives…

 

 

“How about now?” Adrian challenged. “Or should we wait until he kills someone else? Laura maybe?”

Sanchez was quiet for a moment. He looked at Angelica. She nodded and they both slid a bullet into the chambers of their Glocks. “Adrian is right. We can’t let him kill Alvarez or any of the other girls.”

“What’s the plan?” she asked.

“We do have the element of surprise. And Laura and Alvarez can be useful I think. I don’t know about the other girls. There are 12 soldiers, but only 5 including Garcia around the girls. Maybe if we take out those 5, by the time the others in the jungle paths see what is happening we will have the upper hand. Angelica, you take out the soldier guarding Alvarez. I’ll take out Garcia and then if we have time we can turn to the other three. Adrian, whatever happens, you just focus on getting Laura and that disc drive to the car and to the Belize border. Maybe we can create enough distraction so you can get away.”

“And you guys?”

Sanchez shrugged. “It is our job Amigo. Good luck. We all run on three. Ready?”

He didn’t get past two.

“If you can’t do it, it would be my pleasure,” a voice yelled from the path leading into the jungle. “He and I have many old grudges to settle.”

“Jesus,” Angelica whispered. “That’s Jose Morales.”

Adrian recognized him as well. “That’s the man that killed your cousin in the village. The Zeta drug gang guy.”

Sanchez nodded.

They watched as Jose approached the centre of the plaza, followed by six men similarly armed and dressed in ragged, camouflage green military attire. Each carried an assault rifle and a revolver strapped to their leg. One had his arm in a sling and another a large white patch over his nose. Another had a visible limp. Jose carried no rifle but had a revolver holstered on each hip.

“Hola Commandant Garcia, “ he greeted as he reached the place where the girls were on the ground. “Thank you for protecting my possessions.”

He noticed Essie on the ground, blood pooling around her head on the ancient bricks plaza ground. “What happened to this one?”

“The others needed a lesson in obeying,” Garcia explained apologetically.

“Too bad. That’s one less for my men. Did the fat man get on the plane with the stuff?”

“Yes,” Garcia glanced at his watch. “They should be at the airport by now.”

“Bueno,” he offered. “Up girls,” he ordered in English. “Time to get married. My men await for you.”

One by one he kicked the girls to get up. “I heard about you,” he explained when he got to Laura. “You are the fighter. I would have enjoyed taming you, but it appears that the fat man wants you. I don’t blame him. So you will go with this nice soldier to the airport while these lovely girls and I go back into the jungle.” He turned to Garcia and nodded at Alvarez. “And I want him.

“Can’t we do anything?” Adrian implored.

“Believe me I would love to take care of that bastard. But for us to attack right now wouldn’t help anyone and would certainly get us killed. There are too many for us Adrian.”

“If they are taking Laura back to the airport, then maybe we can do something after they leave?” Angelica suggested. “Circle back to the parking area and get Laura there?”

“You mean after they take away the girls and kill Alvarez?” Adrian suggested. “Clearly we were wrong about him. And no one will ever find these girls again after the Zetas take them.”

“I don’t like it either Adrian,” Sanchez consoled. “But I don’t know what else to do. If we live, we can report on Garcia and send the authorities into the jungle to look for the girls.”

“But Alvarez will be dead and the girls will be somewhere in the Mexican jungle. No one will care about the girls after they leave here.”

“Maybe they can help,” Angelica interrupted as she pointed to the edge of the plaza.

Figures started to emerge from the jungle —from every corner of the Plaza and from every path Some carried axes and shovels. Some carried weapons of various sorts—shotguns, machetes, and western type revolvers. They emerged until the plaza area surrounding the knot of soldiers and girls at the centre was completely surrounded by what Adrian estimated were fifty or more men and women. Adrian recognized some of them from his earlier scan of the workers around the grounds. Others looked more soldier like—although dressed as laborers— and were more heavily armed.

The soldiers and the Zetas all raised cocked weapons. Morales pulled both his revolvers from their holsters. “Don’t shoot,” he ordered his men and the soldiers.

“Who are you? What do you want?”

A man and a woman emerged from the back of the crowd opposite where Adrian was hiding. “We want the girls. Now.”

“I know you. Both of you,” Garcia announced. “You are terrorists. I should arrest you now.”

“Si. We are what you call terrorists. All of us here.” He gestured to the crowd. “And you are on our sacred grounds. Give us the girls —and senor Alvarez— and we can all leave peacefully. I will kill you on another day.”

“We have automatic weapons. You have machetes and birdshot. We can kill you all right now.” Morales threatened. “So maybe you should just dissolve back into your hovels and breed.”

“You killed my husband Morales,” the woman drew a pistol form her waist. “Now I will kill you.”

“Who are they?” Adrian whispered.

Sanchez smiled and touched his fingers to his lips for silence.

“Midewiwin! Right!”

Sanchez repeated the gesture for silence. “Watch. There may be an opportunity now for you to get Laura. That is my cousin’s wife and I wouldn’t want to piss her off I can tell you that. If bullets start flying you head for Laura and get her out of here.”

 

FORTY-FOUR

 

May 12, 2016

Revolution…

 

 

As he had always done when facing danger as either a soldier or an executive, Alvarez scanned the scene in front of him. He knew that he had a special ability to quickly scan the environment around him and see things—connections—that most others could not. It was one reason he was so proficient at Temv- K'a. He assessed the circumstances in the seconds that Garcia hesitated. The girls were all on the ground, guarded by three soldiers with M16s. Some were crying—or at least whimpering. Laura was doing the same scan and when their eyes met for an instant he saw no pity or fear, just resolution. The younger soldiers were clearly nervous. He doubted that they had expected to be witness to a murder. He also assessed that —except for the one holding the 9mm to his back— that every soldier had some Indigenous lineage. The modern army had a targeted recruitment strategy to increase the number of Indigenous men —and women—in the military. He noticed for the first time that two of the soldiers guarding the exit paths were women. He figured he could easily handle the soldier at his back and certainly an aging, out of shape Garcia. Laura, and maybe a couple of the other girls, might at least distract the men guarding them until he could take out the three of them. The Mexican and Japanese girls were tough and were not crying. That left the eight guarding the various entrances and exits. They were too far to take part in a fight, but they were all done for if those soldiers decided to shoot. But Esse's killing changed everything.

Then the Zetas showed up. Morales was an ex-Kaibile and was behind the attack on him and Laura on the road. They were long time enemies and he knew there would be no mercy from him. And he is apparently in Mason’s pocket. He listened silently to Morales abuse the soldiers and the girls. He will kill me for sure, Alvarez concluded, but at least Laura wasn’t going with the Zetas.

"Ah Morales," he offered the younger man. "Backed up by your men and with pistols is the only way that you could ever beat me. I bet you still have bruises from the last time I beat you at a Temv- K'a fight. It was your cowardice that allowed me to beat you. I could see it in your eyes and anticipate every move."

“You are an old man now. Not worthy of my skills. I will just kill you slowly back at our camp.”

“They might have something to say about that,” Alvarez pointed to the quickly gathering men and woman around the edge of the Plaza. He recognized many of the workers from the school and the villa. Some were armed and some not, but all were clearly Indigenous of some hue. Now he watched and listened to the standoff between Morales and the workers, ready to save Laura when necessary.

“Men. Shoot the two leaders!” Garcia finally ordered his men.

One of the two women soldiers placed her weapon on the ground and went and stood weaponless with the gathering crowd of workers. Another soldier slowly placed his own rifle on the ground and joined the woman soldier. The other woman and seven other soldiers followed. The older soldier behind Alvarez kept his revolver shoved into the crook of his back.

“You will all be shot for this,” Garcia shouted as he drew his own pistol.

“Is this a movie set?” a woman’s voice yelled from the edge of the Plaza. “Is Tom Cruise here?”

 

FORTY-FIVE

 

May 12, 2016

The movie set…

 

 

Laura would have laughed under different circumstances.

Essie was dead, her body lying three metres from the girls. They were sitting on the ground, grouped together and comforting each other. Some were stoic. Other quietly sobbed. Manuela had stopped her nose from bleeding and, like Laura, stared angrily at Morales. While the soldiers around the girls had dropped their rifles, the one behind her grandfather still held a pistol to his back. The four, armed Zetas, including their leader, had taken the soldier’s places, surrounding the girls. The soldier in charge who shot Essie had a pistol aimed at something near the edge of the plaza. “If any shooting starts, stay flat to the ground,” Laura whispered to the other girls.

With everyone else, she turned to the path that led to Temple Four as a woman entered the centre of the plaza. At the same time as she saw the woman, her heart skipped a beat as she saw Adrian in the ring of workers holding a spade across his chest.

The woman was clearly a tourist missed in the soldiers’ search of the property. A floppy Tilley style hat covered a head framed by auburn curls, although the touch of visible grey around her ears gave away her age. She wore dark sunglasses with sparkle-covered frames on a string. A map hung over her neck in a clear plastic cover and draped over the quick dry safari shirt. A non-wrinkle skirt and Keen sandals matched the rest of her style. She had an open guidebook in her hand as she approached the group of girls.

“Sorry to interrupt,” she announced as she scanned the temples. “Where are the director and the camera? That is fabulous make up,” she offered as she stood over Essie. Only Laura saw the wink the woman gave her. “Are you a famous actor?” she asked as she approached the Zeta leader. “Is there any famous actor I would know? Russell Crowe maybe?”

Morales drew a pistol from his right holster and placed it at her forehead. “Famous? Yes. An actor? Not really.”

“Oh my,” the woman whined as she dropped her guidebook on the ground. “Am I in some sort of trouble here?”

 

FORTY-SIX

 

May 12, 2016

The stand off…

 

 

Even under her floppy hat and dollar store sunglasses Alvarez recognized the woman right away. He had once watched her as she almost won a champion’s tour golf tournament that Petrobuy was sponsoring in Houston. He had watched her make a presentation on her —and her deceased husband’s —design for new golf courses. He had shared his emotions and dreams over lunch and golf at their not yet constructed golf course. He had learned much about her history and actually wondered if she might be part of his future. Now he marveled at her performance in the middle of the Guatemalan jungle. And it looked like her next act would be to be killed by an ex Kaibile who runs drugs for the Zetas. He only had time to think “strange woman,” to himself when she moved.

Morales had the pistol aimed at her forehead when her right hand plunged deeply into his solar plexus, followed by a kick to his left knee. He immediately crumpled to the ground, his pistol dropping to the ground beside Laura.

Alvarez had never doubted that he could take care of both Garcia and the soldier behind him. In the moment of distraction and shock at the woman’s actions, he spun around and punched the soldier’s windpipe, grabbed his pistol and held it to Garcia’s head. “Drop your pistol asshole or you know I will kill you.”

Garcia dropped his own pistol. Alvarez kicked it to the woman. “I suspect that you know how to use this as well?”

The woman smiled as she picked it up, “Si. A little.”

They both turned to the four, armed Zetas standing over the group of girls.

 

*

 

The moment that everyone around the plaza was distracted by the woman tourist, Sanchez gave the order. “Now. Let’s go and join the workers surrounding the plaza. No one will notice us in the crowd. Adrian, when the shooting starts—and it will—you get Laura out of there. Run to the car and get to Belize? Nothing else? Ok?”

Adrian nodded and holding the spade, followed Sanchez and Angelica as they slipped into the group of workers closest to them. They tucked their pistols into their backs and each held a rake. Only one of the workers near them was armed with a shotgun, but he could see that many of the other workers surround the plaza had an assortment of rifles and pistols. His first thought was that if they started shooting at the soldiers, they would likely shoot their friends on the other side of the circle. His second was that the girls, including Laura would be in the centre of any shooting.

A moment ago they had listened from their hiding place as the two apparent leaders of the workers stepped forward and challenged both the Zeta and the soldiers. And they watched in surprise as some of the soldiers joined the workers. One soldier who had dropped his rifle was standing ten metres from where they joined the workers’ circle. Now, they watched as the strange woman tourist did some kind of martial arts thing and the Zeta leader crumpled to the ground. At the same time they watched Alvarez point the pistol he had taken from his guard and held it to the other soldier’s head.

“Now!” Sanchez yelled as he pulled out his own 9mm and rushed the remaining Zetas and soldiers. Groups of workers did the same thing and in seconds the armed Zetas were surrounded by armed workers.

Angelica held her pistol in a two handled grip aimed at one Zeta’s chest. She nodded at the workers surrounding them “I would drop your weapon if I were you.”

“Good advice,” the man who was the leader of the workers pushed aside some of the workers who had surrounded the men. “We don’t have an issue with you. At least today. Go back to Mexico.”

One by one the men dropped their weapons.

“Let them go,” the man ordered.

“What about him?” one of the Zeta’s asked, pointing to Morales who was rising to his knees, still covered by the woman.

“He’s mine,” the woman leader ordered. “He is one of us — a Kaibile who has gone bad. He killed my husband. He dies.”

“Yes, but not today. We aren’t killers. Send him back to his Mexican bosses and let them deal with him.”

The woman walked over to Morales who has now on his knees still gasping for breath and put her pistol to his forehead. She waited a few seconds and pulled the trigger. The click was audible over the whole area of the plaza. Mayan designs had created the amphitheater effect to allow their priests to be heard throughout the whole area during the various ceremonies. “Next time Morales. Stay in Mexico.”

One of his men helped Morales to his feet and followed by the others, the men hurried into the jungle by one of the paths leading away from the plaza.

“They will have some vehicles—probably trail bikes—stashed somewhere and will be back across the Mexican border in an hour or two,” the older man offered.

“And then they will come back and kill more villagers and run their drugs,” the woman retorted. “We should have killed them all. What about him?”

Alvarez still had the pistol pointed at Garcia’s forehead. Streams of sweat ran down the soldier’s forehead and dripped from his moustache and stubble. “Give him to his men,” Alvarez suggested. “The ones that dropped their guns. Let them arrest him. I will make sure that the right people know what he has done. He will not be treated kindly in Guatemala City.”

“I will take him in,” offered one of the soldiers with a Corporal stripe in his sleeve. “And our colleague.” He nodded to the soldier that crushed Manuela’s nose and to his colleagues who had now gathered around him. “We have watched him with disgust for some time now but were afraid to do anything. We are sorry for what he has done. The modern military isn’t anything like this. Corruption and killing are from a day long gone past. He will be taken care of I assure you.”

Sanchez stepped from the crowd, pulling his ID from a back pocket. “Glad to hear that. I can help. I am Sanchez Guteriez from the Military Intelligence Unit.” He gestured to Angelica. “This is my colleague Angelica Guteriez. Give these soldiers back their weapons. I suggest though that we wait a few moments before we leave to make sure that Morales has truly left. I know him and he isn’t likely to wander quietly into the sunset.”

“I agree,” Alvarez interjected. “He will come back. Maybe today. Maybe tomorrow but he will return for some vengeance.”

“What about the girls?” Adrian had helped Laura to her feet and together they had helped all the girls to stand.

“They can’t go back to the school yet,” Alvarez announced. “I don’t know what dangers are there. They were promised to Moralez as part of the drug dealing and he might still try to make it work.”

“We can help,” the woman leading the workers suggested. “We can split them up and take them individually to our homes and villages until the danger is passed?” She moved forward and took Manuela by the arm. “You brave little girl can come with me.”

One by one workers approached the girls and gently led them away to various paths leading from the plaza. All except Laura and Adrian. In minutes the plaza was empty of workers. Essie’s body still lay on the ground, a small pool of blood congealing under her head.

“We will take her,” the corporal nodded at the body. “Our truck will hold the men. And we can commandeer Senor Alvarez’ van to take the body and Commandant Garcia.”

“We will come as well,” Sanchez nodded to Angelica.

Suddenly everyone remembered the woman tourist. The Corporal approached her and took the pistol she was holding. “Senorita, you should leave. It is too dangerous for you here.”

Alvarez laughed. “It appears to me that this woman can take care of herself. How are you McDougal? A long way from a golf course here?”

“I don’t know? Maybe we can find that the Mayans invented the game before the Scots. That would piss them off don’t you think?”

“Mayans were too smart for such a silly game. But it is good to see you here.” He turned to the Corporal. “I think the Senorita and I need to leave the country and go to Belize. And that young girl needs to come with us. She seems to like that young man holding her up so he can come as well. I’ll need the van for that.”

“I have a car,” Adrian offered as he stepped forward. “I’m Adrian Campbell from Calgary, Alberta and I’m Laura’s friend. You can come with us.”

“Campbell?” the man worker leader asked. “Related to Kasikiskit?”

“Grandma,” Adrian was shocked. “How do you know her?”

Then older man chuckled. “I might be your grandfather kid.” He shook Adrian’s hand.

“Midewiwin?” Adrian replied.

The man just smiled.

“Before we have any family reunions here,” Angelica interjected. “I suggest you get going Adrian. Despite our Corporal friend here guarantees, I am not entirely sure the whole Guatemalan military is on our side. You need to get to Belize before the details of these events filter back to Guatemala City. And Corporal I suggest radio silence before you get back to someone you trust?”

“Si. Good advice. We will not stop or talk to anyone until we get back to the city.”

“Then let’s all get going,” Alvarez offered. “Poncho,” he addressed the older man. “Thank you for your help. And you couldn’t be the kid’s grandfather. She never liked you.”

They laughed and gave each other a man hug.

Adrian went to Sanchez. “Thanks for everything Senor Sanchez. I hope I can help you some day.” He offered his hand. “Shouldn’t we have some sort of secret handshake or something?”

“Don’t think our ancestors shook hands,” Angelica offered. “ But I am sure they hugged. Come here kid. We can have a secret hug.”

“Thanks Angelica. I’ll miss you for sure.”

“ Go save your girlfriend now.” She let him go and shoved him away. “Oh. And pick up our packs from the cave on the way?”

Melanie and Adrian each took Laura’s arm and led her to the exit towards the lodge. “Who are you?” they both asked her simultaneously.

“Later,” she replied. “But I knew your grandfather once Laura. You are brave like him.” She let Adrian and Laura walk ahead, hand in hand. She waited for Alvarez to join her.

“So who are you actually and why are you here?” Alvarez asked. “And don’t give me the golf course design thing. I know that your husband was more than a third rate golf instructor. I now know that the Belize government didn’t choose you just for that unique Solomon’s Seal design?”

Melanie was suddenly defensive. “What do you know about Burt?”

“Other than he died of cancer last year? How about it was the second time he died?”

“She stopped walking. “How do you know this?”

“I told you. Background research. As I told you before, I have access to sources that even most governments can’t access — or at least sources that will not talk to most governments. It took a little more digging to find out that the real Burt is buried somewhere in the desert outside of Sinaloa. From there it was a matter of matching deaths of people his age to his size and interests. Then match the original Gord to his travels and mysterious deaths of bad people. Who was he working for anyhow? NATO? UN?”

“I was never sure. I only knew him after he was Burt, not as Gord.”

“Is he really Laura’s Grandfather?’

“He was. They were very close before his first death. He often told me that leaving her was the hardest part of the identity change.”

“I gather he had to do it because his life was catching up to him? Some folks wanted revenge?”

“Something like that I think. When did you know all of this?”

“I just got the full report last night. I didn’t know all of this while we were together in Belize. And that brings us back to the question of why you are down here?”

“I am not sure why I was sent here other than to try and get Laura back to Canada. I might have been sent to kill you actually.”

“Why didn’t you? You had lots of opportunities in Belize, at the school and my home?”

“I wasn’t told to. I think it turned out that you were only partly bad. Not the really bad one that needed to shuffle off his mortal coil”

“Month Python? Give me a break.”

They both laughed.

“I am curious? Would you have done it if you were ordered? How would you have killed me? Strangled me in the night? A stiletto in the ribs? A frying pan to the head? What?

“Maybe. I think you should be careful how you treat me Senor,” she admonished with a smirk. “As for the method, Burt—Gord—never used violence. He had a collection of herbs and things that made it look like natural deaths like heart attacks and such. I learned what some of his stuff did but I am not good enough to use it all. I would have used what he used for his last job in Mexico. It was a powder mixture that absorbs though the skin and causes a heart attack within two weeks. I would have put it on the handle of your bedroom door and you would have died long after I was gone. “

“Phew. And why again didn’t you do it?”

“The process is that I get all set up to do it and then wait for a message with the name of the one to be sent to their maker. In your case the message never came.”

“No other reason?”

“Maybe.”

“Where is the powder now?”

Melanie patted the camera bag over her shoulder. “Actually two ingredients. They are inert until mixed together. They are safely sealed in an airproof, waterproof, unbreakable containers. I’ll find a way to dispose of them later.”

“Giving up the killing business are you?”

“I was never in it,” she turned angrily to him. “So let’s just leave the issue. I only did this to help save Laura. It turned out that some people had other interests in what was going on at the school and there were conditions on the help I needed.”

“Is he really from Canada?” Alvarez changed the topic and nodded to the couple ahead of them.

“So I am told. He’s Laura’s boyfriend from Calgary. What is that Mide thing? The boy said that to the worker.”

“Apparently he has connections for sure. But I don’t know about that Mide what what.”

They passed the Lodge and turned right towards the parking area.

“You know there is no way that Mason will let us make Belize?” Alvarez suggested. “Morales will already have been told that the girls have gone and that Garcia has been arrested. They had a roadblock on the Belize highway earlier in the day. If it is still there we will have trouble. Can your people help?”

“I don’t even know who ‘my people’ are. And no. I was told no help until the Belize border.”

By the time they reached the parking area, Adrian had already started up the Austin. Laura was in the passenger seat.

“We’re going to take this pile of junk to the border?” Alvarez whined as Adrian held the back doors open.

“Your limousine awaits Madam,” he offered McDougal with a deep bow.

 

FORTY-SEVEN

 

May 12,2107

20 questions…

 

 

Laura turned to Melanie in the backseat. “Did you really know my grandfather?”

“Later Laura,” she replied. “It is a long story and one more suited for when we are safely across the border.

“But he is dead. Do you miss him too?”

“Terribly.”

“I don’t remember meeting you on my trips to Ottawa? How did you know him?”

Melanie already regretted telling Laura that she new her Grandfather. Now she didn’t know how much to share —or how to share.

Adrian interrupted the conversation. “I’m going to pull off the road for a moment. I have something I want to show Laura. And you two can come as well if you want.”

Adrian pulled the Austin off the pavement onto the gravel shoulder. He turned off the car. “This will only take a moment. Follow me.”

“Won’t the others be worried if they go by here and see the car by the side of the road?”

“Sanchez and Angelica will know where I’ve gone. Remember they asked me to pick up their packs? They won’t worry.”

It took him a few moments to find the place where they had earlier emerged from the jungle in front of the stone steps and the cave entrance. They all had to duck and shove vines and ferns aside to follow Adrian as he pushed forward into the thick greenery. In thirty metres they stopped at the foot of the moss covered stone steps. The metre wide six steps led to a three metre square platform. They all joined Adrian at the top of the stairs. The road was totally hidden from them, even from the top of the platform.

“Adrian,” Alvarez chided. “There are perhaps a hundred of these types of ruins spread throughout the 200 plus acres of the Tikal grounds. It isn’t really worth stopping our trip to the border.”

Adrian held a finger up to indicate wait a moment as he pushed aside a large fern at the back of the platform. “This is worth a stop. Take a look.”

One by one they ducked under the fern and entered the cave. There was enough natural light from the holes in the cave roof for them to make their way down the entrance stairs and into the centre of the cavern.

“I’ve heard about these places but never seen one,” Alvarez offered. “There is one in Belize that the tourists go into, but I don’t think anyone has found this place yet.”

“Look around Elesio. I think that this place was found a long time ago,” Melanie gestured around them.

As their eyes adjusted to the dimly lit cavern, the shapes of the tin huts came to focus.

“My grandmother was here once,” Adrian announced. “In the sixties I think.”

“What is it?” Laura asked.

“It was—maybe is— a hiding place for revolutionaries,” Alvarez informed them. “As a young Kaibile we searched everywhere for this place. I can’t believe that it was right in front of us for so long.” He turned to Adrian. “There must be another entrance. We would have noticed if there was much traffic into the cave from the Tikal road.”

“Yes. Sanchez and Angelica led me here by swimming underground through that creek.” They all turned to look at the three metre wide stream that ran through the middle of the football size cavern. “We came up over there.” He pointed at a place where the stream disappeared under a wall of rock. “If we swam 10 metres under the rock we would come to another room and from there we could work our way for an hour or so to exit the mountain at the other side. It was a two hour walk from Sanchez’ home village. We had to come this way because the Zetas you saw in the Plaza were after him and his daughter, Angelica.”

“I can’t swim,” Elesio announced.” So I am not going that way if that is what you are suggesting.”

Adrian laughed. “ No sir. I only came here because I thought Laura might like to see this. And to pick up the packs we left here earlier.”

Alvarez hoisted one of the packs, testing the weight. “If there is some food and drink in the packs maybe we can take some time to rest and eat something? I don’t know about you but all I have had in the last 24 hours is a cinnamon bun.”

“Not a bad idea Elesio, “Melanie offered. “The border might be two hours at most as long as there is no trouble. We have lots of time and there are questions to be answered before we move on?”

“Okay. What’s on the menu?”

“Adrian rummaged through Angelica’s pack and pulled out packages of freeze dried food. “Thai noodles. Hungarian Goulash. Irish stew. And chicken cacciatore. Just add boiling water and a gourmet feast awaits. There are also some Granola bars if we are still hungry. And coffee. Juice crystals. And matches.”

“I’ll get a fire going,” Laura offered as she gathered up branches that had fallen through the roof holes onto the cavern floor.

“Melanie picked up a soot stained pot from beside the fire pit. “I’ll get water.”

Alvarez dumped the contents of Sanchez’s pack on the cavern floor. “I’ll see what else might be in the packs that we can use. Let’s see. More matches. Three water bottles—empty. Headlamp. Clothing—a pair of long pants and a long sleeved sweatshirt. And a clip for a 9mm Glock.” He picked up the clip and looked inside. “Full. Too bad we don’t have a gun to go with them.”

“Will they fit this?” Laura removed the pistol that Morales had dropped on the ground from her jean’s waistband. “But why do we need a gun? We are safe now right? Just drive to the border?”

“Where did you get this?”

“The man that Melanie flattened dropped it on the ground beside me. I don’t know why, but I just tucked it into the back of my jeans. I don’t even know how to use it.”

“I do,” Alvarez announced as he popped the clip from the gun and examined it. “Full as well. Gives me 15 shots. But you are right Laura, we don’t need them now.”

Laura busied herself with the fire while Melanie placed the pot and water beside the fire pit. When the fire was going and the pot placed on the steel grill over the flames, the four of them sat around the fire in silence.

“So who is going first,” Laura asked. “ I have a lot of questions. Maybe we should play truth or dare? See who can tell me what is really going on?”

“Okay Laura,” Alvarez offered. “Fire away.”

“Right. Number one. Why are we sitting her and not just zooming to the border? It is only a couple of hours by car? Even better, why didn’t we just go with the soldiers?”

Alvarez looked at Melanie. “I’ll start. Maybe Ms. McDougal will have something to add. As for the drive, remember that army checkpoint when we tried to go to the border before? If that is still there then it will even be worse now. It means that Mason knows that we have you with us and it means that that Bobby Joe, Mary Ann and he haven’t yet reached what they feel is safe territory. It could even mean that they have run into trouble themselves. We can’t risk driving the Belize highway until we are sure that Sanchez and Angelica and the Corporal have reached safety and ordered the roadblock removed. There are army headquarters south of Flora so they should be there in two hours. We should wait a while to let them clear the road. To answer the second question, it was better for us to split up simply because you and I are Mason’s targets. Once he learns that Sanchez doesn’t have us he will lose interest in taking on the Guatemalan army no matter how many Commandants he thinks he has bought. We both have a better chance of making it if we are separated. It was good call on Sanchez’ part.”

“So we stay here for an hour and then head to the highway not knowing if it is clear?”

“Not exactly,” Melanie interjected as she pulled an iPhone from her camera bag.

“The folks that sent me aren’t totally useless. They can track us with this and will know if the highway is clear. We will know what happened to Sanchez and crew.”

“Neat,” Adrian observed. “Some advanced tracking mechanism on the phone?”

“Yeah. The Find Your Phone app,” Melanie laughed. “Apparently Apple has more research resources to spend than the Canadian government.”

“What if the road isn’t cleared? What if Sanchez runs into such trouble that he can’t help? What if …?”

Alvarez stopped her.” You’ve had your question Laura. Next?”

“My turn,” Adrian announced. “What exactly happened back in the Plaza? How did all those people end up in the same place at the same time? I can guess at the workers. Angelica or Sanchez arranged that with a phone call when were here in this cave earlier. They have contacts with the local Indigenous groups.”

“Is that the mide something you said?”

“Midewiwin, yes. Don’t ask. If I told you I would have to kill you.”

Alvarez laughed. “I never knew the name, but I knew some international Indigenous connections brought your Grandma and others from around the world here to help the terrorists—sorry revolutionaries.”

“But I don’t think they anticipated all the other soldiers, just the Zetas. Morales killed Sanchez’s cousin and I think the Indigenous workers were after some revenge.”

“The soldier part is easy,” Alvarez added. “Mason promised the girls to Morales, he wanted Laura for himself and certainly wanted to have me killed. So he bought as many corrupt soldiers as he could. And Garcia was a willing customer. He had timed it with Morales and Garcia to meet in the Plaza when the girls were on their tour of Tikal. We threw a wrench into his plans when I took off with the backpack and the girls to head for Belize. The roadblock was likely a quick decision when he found out we were gone. He and Doughty probably had not even planned to come to Tikal themselves, but he had to chase the pack with the drive and the drugs.”

“It is too bad he got them,” Melinda offered. “The folks that sent me wanted that drive. That was probably the main reason they helped out.”

“You mean this one?” Laura pulled the small hard drive from the front of her jeans and handed it to Melinda.

“You did the swap?” Melinda was incredulous.

“Yeah. Sanchez and Adrian gave me the other drive to swap and I did it before we left the van. Why it so important about the other drive?”

“Here is what I have been told. As you know, this drive has videos of the girls. It is the only hard forensic evidence of the taping and who does it. It is apparently needed to make the charges stick to Mason or anyone else involved. The replacement drive is a little more complex. I don’t know the technical details, but apparently the minute Mason connects it to a computer, it will send all sorts of data to an Interpol—or FBI if in the U.S.—computer. They will have access to every file and transaction made, including tracking on the deep web to the buyers of the videos where ever they are in the world. Apparently a lot of important men—and women—throughout the world will get knocks on their doors soon after the first attempt to download the videos.”

“But what about the videos? You can’t let them use those videos?”

“I asked that question as well. Again I don’t know the technical process, but when they first load the videos they will see them, verifying I suppose that the drive is real and has the material he wants. But there is a time eraser that is part of the bug on the drive that will delete every video file on the host server and on everyone that downloads the videos. Poof. Every porno loses all their videos in one fell swoop.”

“Except for this drive,” Adrian interjected. “Which can be used as evidence. Right?”

“And that’s why Sanchez wanted to keep us separate. Not for Laura or me, but for the drive?”

“Probably,” Melanie offered.

“Okay, my turn,” Alvarez suggested. “Please explain to me your little trick back at the Plaza? Walking right into the middle of a pending Armageddon? We were supposed to meet at the Belize highway junction. And where for God’s sake did you get those clothes?”

“Hah! When I saw the roadblock I knew you would head to Tikal. My original plan had been just to grab Laura and Adrian when you were on your Tikal field trip with the girls and take them to the border —by taxi. If your plan had worked then we all would have been across the border. When you couldn’t pick me up at the junction I went back to my —and Sanchez’s —original plan; meet you at Tikal and grab the kids. The clothes? I had to look like a tourist. I didn’t I? Some lady is $500 richer and wearing my designer jeans all the way back to Kingston.”

The other three all rolled their eyes.

“I was hiding behind the wall on the top of Temple Four watching as the girls entered the plaza and then as the military cleared all the other tourists. I knew that Sanchez, Angelica and Adrian were somewhere around the plaza, but I couldn’t see them. Then you showed up with a gun to your back, the Essie girl was shot, the Zetas showed up and and then the workers emerged from the jungle. I figured if I didn’t do something then it would indeed have been Armageddon and many people—the girls, soldiers, Zetas and workers—would be shot. When the soldiers dropped their weapons I figured there was a chance if you and Sanchez acted with me. You did and no one died.”

“Except Essie, “Laura offered. “She was my friend.”

“Garcia will pay for that Laura,” Alvarez consoled her.

“I still don’t have a full understanding of what was actually going on at the school?” Adrian interjected as he turned to Alvarez. “And why you aren’t headed for jail?

“And I still don’t have a full understanding of who you are,” Laura added, turning to Melanie. “And how you knew my grandpa—my other grandpa?”

Alvarez checked his watch. “I have some questions of my own. Like how you got here Adrian? But the food is ready and we can probably try the road again. Let’s leave some questions for now? We’ll have lots of time to talk over a dinner in Belize. Let’s eat this mush, have a drink and get going?”

 

FORTY-EIGHT

 

May 12, 2016

 

 

Sanchez saw the checkpoint before anyone else in the van. The Corporal was driving the van and concentrating on a curvy section of the Tikal highway a few kilometres before the turn off to the airport. Angelica was sitting in the third row of seats guarding Garcia and three soldiers were in the second seat. “Slow down Corporal,” he ordered. “Do you know of any checkpoint here?”

“No Senor. We only set up the one past the turn off to Belize, not on the Tikal highway. What do I do?”

“They are waiving everyone through pretty quickly,” Sanchez observed as they pulled into the ten-car line up at the checkpoint. “They are looking for something very specific.”

They watched as one of the soldiers at the checkpoint glanced down the line up and stared at the van. He pulled a cell phone from his shirt pocket and spoke while he kept his eyes on the van. “Yes. I think it is us,” Sanchez announced. “Someone has told them we are coming.”

“Morales?”

“Probably. I should have let the locals kill him. He has called Mason.” The soldier gave him a puzzled look. “He’s the man that bought Garcia here. And started this whole mess in the first place.”

“We can’t turn around Senor. No place to go. Besides we are trained to start shooting if someone starts to run.”

“Okay. Let’s go past the checkpoint. If we have to, race out of here, run over the spike track and turn into the airport. Its’ only a few kilometres and you can get there on flat tires. There are federal agents there that I can count on.”

As they approached the checkpoint more soldiers emerged from the small guardhouse and surrounded the van. “Good afternoon soldier. How can we help you?” Alvarez addressed the soldier at the passenger side window and showed him his Federale identity card.

“Carlos,” the soldier on the driver’s side recognized the Corporal. “Why are you driving this van? We are looking for a runaway girl and a criminal who ran drugs at his school in Flores —Elesio Alvarez. Are they with you?”

“No Pedro, we don’t know about any girl or Alvarez. We are just returning to our base. The van belongs to the Federales.”

“Who is in the back?” The guard tried to peer through the tinted windows of the van.

“More soldiers —Commandant Garcia—and another Federale agent.”

The soldier stuck his head into the driver’s window and looked back into the van. “Hola Captain Garcia. Sorry to have bothered you.”

Garcia smiled. No problem private. “The soldier couldn’t see the gun that Angelica had stuck in his ribs.

The soldier looked over to the guardhouse and shook his head, clearly waiting for instructions from someone inside the shed.

After a few moments the soldier waived to have the spike track slid off the road. “Have a safe trip to the base Carlos.”

As they drove off Carlos turned to Sanchez. “Pablo is a friend. He winked at me as we left. There was someone hiding in the shed that let us go. But they knew who we were and what we were doing.”

“Yes. I saw the person in the shadow of the hut door. He was a very large Gringo. He apparently doesn’t care about us —or his bought soldier Captain Garcia. He just wants Alvarez and Laura. It is a good thing that they didn’t come with us.”

“True,” Angelica added. “But they will never get past this roadblock, much less the one on the Belize road. We need to tell them to stay where they are for now.”

“I can get a message to them,” Sanchez announced as he grabbed his phone and speed dialed. “You know where they are now?” he asked the person that answered. “Well tell her to stay there. They will never get past the checkpoints on the highway. And we will be an hour getting to the base and another hour or two getting anyone in the military to take action.” He paused, listened. “Mason is only a few kilometres from the airport so he can leave quickly. He probably will leave now that he has learned that we don’t have the girl.” He listened again. “ Okay. Let us know where they are so we can help when we get the right people working on this.”

He put the phone back in his pocket. “They will be warned. But they are totally on their own until we get them help. That could be tomorrow given how fast things sometimes move in this country. Especially with the government and the military. And since Mason will probably now leave the country quickly there is no rush to catch him or Doughty. If Laura did what we asked then they will be tracked to their destination.”

“There is some food in our packs Dad,” Angelica offered. “The cave has been a safe place for decades. They will be fine until we can get someone back to them.”

“Maybe.” He turned to the driver. “Carlos, Break the speed limit. Let’s get to your base.

 

FORTY-NINE

 

May 12,2016

The Hotel California…

 

 

Richard punched the ‘hang up’ button on his iPhone as he leaned back on the rattan chair. “She is still at Tikal and the road is blocked at least twice between Tikal and here.”

They were sitting on the deck of their room at the SunBreeze Hotel.

“I know,” Mary added, sliding her own phone across the glass top of the table between them. “They are thirty metres off the Tikal road just south of the park entrance. I don’t know what she is doing in the what appears to be the jungle, but there she is.” Mary pointed to the flashing dot on the Google map. “Can they clear the road blocks?”

“I suspect so. But not until they get permission to override the commands of the regional Commandant. The actual army is pretty clean. It is just this one guy Garcia who was bought and sold. The soldiers at the checkpoints aren’t bad or corrupt, but they will follow their current orders until they are changed. And their current orders are to deliver a kidnapped white girl to Mason at the airport and kill the kidnapper if he resists. Who knows what they would do with Melanie and the First Nations boy.”

“How long will that take?”

“As long as it takes to find someone higher up the food chain from that Garcia guy. It will most likely have to be someone in Guatemala City. So it could take a while. And they may not do it at all if they raise any suspicion in Mason. Remember this whole operation isn’t over until he plugs that drive into his system. Have you texted this to Melanie?”

“Yes. Just now. But can’t we just go and get them?”

“We’ve been over this Mary,” Richard replied with some frustration. “We could go and get them for sure and easily bring them back here to Belize. We could have taken Laura a month ago if we wanted, but then we wouldn’t have learned the difference between Alvarez and Mason. We wouldn’t have learned of Doughty’s involvement or how the videos got to a server somewhere. This whole operation is more than Melanie and Laura. If it weren’t for the ‘operation,’ Laura’s mother would still be pounding the Ottawa pavement trying to find a MP that would listen—or care. If we go play white knight now then we risk Mason getting suspicious and panicking. We don’t yet know the depth of his contacts. There could even be people at this Hotel that report to him.”

She went over and kissed the bald spot on the top of his head. “It has been fun being honeymooning tourists this past week. We never had a honeymoon.”

He returned the kiss and the look. “We’ll have lots of time for honeymooning after this is over Mary.”

“Can we really retire Richard? I mean will the agency ever let us go? What about the Hotel California rule? Doesn’t that apply to us as well?”

“I don’t know Mary. I think that if Trudeau even knew about this part of the agency it would be scrapped. Times have changed since the Pearson days when the odd benevolent assassination of a bad guy —or gal—was somehow justified. Things are more complicated today. Look how close we came to having Melanie kill Alvarez?”

“Do you think she would have done it?”

“I don’t know. Philosophically I know she is opposed to any killing. But she did what she had to do in Mexico. And if you do it once, you now belong to us. I think she only agreed in this case to get to Laura. She is her Step Granddaughter after all.”

“ But the bottom line is that no one can really do anything until Mason gets back to the U.S. and plugs in the drive?”

“I think so. Even if his plane has left he will be in contact with someone on the ground here. If they report that government officials — Guatemalan or Canadian—swooped in and save Laura then he will chuck that disc in the closest ocean.”

Mary glanced at her Fitbit. “It is 3 O’clock now. It will be dark at 6:30. Mason wouldn’t land anywhere in the U.S. for a few hours. It looks like Melanie and Laura will be spending the night somewhere near Tikal. Maybe she’ll go to the Tikal Lodge for the night?”

“Maybe. But let’s get ready. When we get the word that everything is cleared, we can be some tourists going to visit the Tikal site and go find them.”

“Okay.” Mary stood up and pushed her chair back from the table. “I’ll get the Jeep ready to go.”

“Hold it.” He handed her the iPhone. “The dot is moving. They are heading down the Tikal Highway, right into the roadblock at the airport.”

 

FIFTY

 

May 12, 2016

 

 

“It is three,” Adrian announced. “Don’t you think that Sanchez would have cleared the checkpoint by now? It has been almost two hours.”

Laura was shocked at the realization that it had only been four hours since they loaded the van and left the school for Tikal. The whole event at the plaza lasted only fifteen minutes but she keeps replaying it all in slow motion, making it seem much longer. The image of Essie being shot and collapsing at her feet has become an indelible video on a constant replay loop. Up until then the whole event was like a game. She and her grandfather were trying to outsmart the evil Mason —push an escape button and start the game over. Essie death changed everything. She just wanted to go home now. “Please,” she begged. “Let’s go. I just want to see my mother.”

Adrian held her in a tight hug. “In a couple of hours we will be in Belize and you can call your mother and by tomorrow we’ll be back playing on the swings in Garrison Square.”

She hugged him back. “Thank you for coming to get me Adrian.”

“Okay lovebirds, let’s get on the road,” Alvarez announced.

“Not yet,” Melanie interrupted. “It appears that the checkpoints aren’t cleared and probably will not be until morning.”

“Makes sense,” Alvarez added. “If they clear them and turn in Garcia before Mason leaves the country then he might panic and that would ruin their operation.”

“What do we do now?” Laura. “Stay here? It will be dark in a couple of hours. Where else could we go? Back to the Tikal Lodge and stay there?”

“I am too well known,” Alvarez suggested. “Somehow word would get back to Mason or others where we were.”

“Pack up the bags. I have an idea,” Adrian ordered. “The village that I stayed in with Sanchez and Angelica is only ten kilometres off the highway, and the turn off is only a few kilometres down the road. We could spend the night there. His wife would be glad to put us up for the night. And then tomorrow when everything is clear we can head to the border?”

“Good with me,” Melanie offered. “Can’t say I would want to spend the night in this cave. Probably bats and all sorts of things come out at night in here.”

“Wimp,” Laura retorted.

“And the car parked on the road is too much a magnet for attention,” Adrian added.

Everyone was in a light mood as they packed up everything that had been dumped from the three backpacks.

“Do we need to take all of this stuff,” Laura asked as she stuffed extra pairs of pants and shirts into the pack. “Headlamps? And a gun for heavens’ sake. Why don’t we just leave all of this here?”

“For whom Laura?” Adrian offered. “No one may be in here for decades again. Leave no footprints right?”

Alvarez jammed the clip in the gun and tucked it in in his waistband. “It is no big deal. We can leave everything in the trunk—or should I say boot?—of that fine automobile waiting for us out at the road. And we could stay here but you are right Adrian, we would have to hide the car somewhere.”

Alvarez, Adrian and Melanie each shouldered a pack and they all walked in single file up the ten steps leading to the cave exit. Adrian turned around at the top and glanced back at the cavern. I will have to ask Grandma what went on in this cave fifty years ago.”

“Maybe some histories are best left to the imagination,” Melanie suggested.

“Like you and my grandfather?” Laura suggested.

As they exited the cave and emerged into the jungle Alvarez motioned for them to be quiet. “Do you hear that,” he asked.

“What,” whispered Laura.

“I hear it,” Melanie announced. “Voices in Spanish. Mexican Spanish.”

Alvarez gave her a quizzical look.

“My Grandfather,” Laura asked again. “He was a language specialist. He taught you?”

“Not exactly. Thirty years living in Mexico taught me.”

“Quiet,” Adrian ordered as he started to creep on his hands and knees towards the road and the car. “Everyone stay here while I go and see what is going on.”

They were silent as they listened to the voices that seemed to grow louder. Someone was angry and giving orders.

“Can you make out what they are saying?” Laura whispered.

“No,” Alvarez and Melanie responded at the same time.

“Too far. Too muffled,” Melanie mouthed as Adrian crawled back through the jungle underbrush.

“Come with me,” he motioned to Elesio and Melanie. “I couldn’t follow what they were saying. You need to listen.”

“I am not staying here by myself,” Laura followed as they all started the crawl to where they could see the road and the Austin.

Four men dressed in the loose pants and cotton tops of field workers were circling the car. The back doors and the trunk were open. Four Honda XL400 trail bikes were propped on the pavement around the car.

“That’s Morales,” Melanie announced. “See him limp where I kicked him?”

“Yes and I recognize that guy,” Melanie whispered as she pointed to the man looking in the trunk. “He is the one who stood over us. What are they saying?”

“It is the Zetas for sure,” Alvarez concluded. “They must have had these bikes and clothes stashed in the jungle north of the park. The others have probably gone back to Mexico, but these four are looking for you and me Laura. It seems that Mason paid them a lot of money to get you. And with me he just wants to even some old scores.”

“Do they know we are here?” Adrian panicked. “We should go back to the cave and leave by the water entrance.”

Melanie listened to their chatter. “No. They think the car broke down and we have gone towards Flores.”

“Not a bad assumption given the age and appearance of that contraption,” Alvarez whispered. “Let’s sit tight and see what they do. If they knew about the cave they would already have gone to take a look. I think we’re safe for a moment.”

They watched as the men finished the search of the car and Morales shouted an order. The four men ran to their bikes and led by Morales they raced down the highway toward the airport and Flores.

“They think they can catch us before we get to the airport or Flores. When they don’t, or find out that we haven’t gone that way they will be back. Adrian. How far to the road to the village?”

“Three kilometres.”

“Give them a minute or two to get clear and let’s head to the village. They may not think to look there.”

Adrian rushed to the Austin and held the trunk open while the packs were loaded. He jumped in the driver’s seat and had the 3 litre engine roaring before anyone was in their seats. “We need to get off this road before they decide to comeback,” he yelled as he used the electronic overdrive in every gear to reach the side road to the village in three minutes. He braked and accelerated into a long straight 2 kilometer stretch of the gravel secondary road. As he reached the curve at the end of the stretch, he glanced in the rear view mirror. “Oh. Oh. We have company.”

All three passengers turned around and looked. As they turned the corner the lights from the four trail bikes pierced their cloud of dust.

“Shit,” Melanie exclaimed. “What now?”

Adrian put the Austin into top gear and slid the car around a sharp bend n the road. “We beat them to the village, that’s what. And hope that there aren’t any goats on the road on the way.”

 

FIFTY-ONE

 

May 12,2016

Orders are orders…

 

 

“We will go straight to your office,” Sanchez ordered Garcia as the van pulled into the military compound in Poptun Petan and he jammed the Glock into his stomach.” “Smile and greet any soldier you see. I’ll be right behind you. If need be, you can introduce us as Federales here for a visit. Got it?”

Garcia nodded.

“Why the secrecy,” the Corporal asked as the van stopped in front of the administration building.

“Mason—the man that orchestrated and paid for this mess—can’t know that we have arrested Garcia, or that we sent Morales and his gang back to Mexico. More importantly, he needs to think that Alvarez was killed and Garcia is sending him the Canadian girl. And we don’t know how many other people on the base he has bought.”

“Why?”

“A little complicated Corporal,” Angelica offered. “But the gist is that this Mason guy needs to land in the U.S. and then boot up his computer before he can know that we have interrupted his plan— more than Alvarez already did by trying to take those girls to Belize.”

“Right,” Sanchez added. “And as soon as he does that we can send in the troops to get the four people we left behind.”

The Corporal gestured to the other soldiers in the van and in the 2-ton truck following the van. “So we just carry on as normal?”

“Until we say otherwise, you just tell everyone the day was a success. Meanwhile we will try and reach some people in Guatemala City who can help out. Let’s go Garcia.”

Garcia walked briskly towards the building entrance followed by Sanchez and Angelica. He curtly saluted the soldier at the entrance. “These Federales are with me.”

They passed two more groups of soldiers on their way to the corner office on the second floor. “Good afternoon Salina,” Garcia greeted the woman at the desk in front of his office. “Could we have some coffee please?”

Garcia’s office was the size of a residential living room. There was a three metre wooden desk along the far wall, fronted by three stiff backed chairs. Behind them were two facing chesterfields and two plush leather armchairs. A conference table with eight chairs filled one side of the room. The walls where decorated with plaques, photos and decorations, all displaying his long career in the military. A Guatemalan flag hung from a pole behind the large desk.

“Have a seat Garcia,” Angelica ordered and motioned to one of the chesterfields. “It might be a while.”

Sanchez pulled out his cell phone and walked to the far corner of the office while he talked.

“Why?” Angelica asked as she scanned the memorabilia pasted all over the wall?”

“Pardon?”

“Why did you do it? It looks like you had a distinguished career and could retire with honours? Why go to work for a man like Mason? Money”

“The money didn’t hurt. But no it wasn’t just the money. Our country has lost its way. When I was a young man the country recognized that it was our devotion to the church and our Conquistador ancestors that made this country great. Now we admit more mixed bloods to the army than those of us with true blood. We ignore the teachings of our Pope on abortion and homosexuality. It was time to finish what we started in the fifties.”

“You mean the eradication of anyone or anything Indigenous?”

“Yes. We tried then. We just didn’t go far enough.”

“But where does this guy Mason fit in? He runs drugs and porn?”

“God works in mysterious ways. Sometimes you have to partner with the devil to achieve his greater plan. Mason provided the money we need to become great again. And he has contacts in other parts of the world that think the way we do.”

“We? How many of you are there? Who are they?”

“You will find out when they rise up against the weak and the impure in our country and do the same in the U.S. You and your grandfather will be one of the first to disappear like in the old days.”

Sanchez walked back to the centre of the room. “A helicopter will be here within the hour with a small squad we can trust. It will also take him back to Guatemala City.”

“What about Mason? What about those four still at Tikal?”

Sanchez glanced at his watch. “He has been in the air for almost two hours now. He filed a flight plan for Miami so he should be landing soon. Then we wait until he does something with the drive. The other four? They are safe as long as Mason thinks that Garcia here has the girl and has killed Alvarez.” He turned to Garcia. “I assume that you have a way to contact him on the plane?”

“Yes.” He motioned to the phone on his desk. “We use the secure land line to call the plane. He doesn’t trust Guatemala cell phones.”

“He is expecting a call isn’t he?”

Garcia didn’t reply

“Okay. Call him now and tell him everything went as planned. Alvarez is dead and you have the girl. Tell him you will hold her until he sends his plane back for her.”

Sanchez put his 9mm to Garcia’s head. “So help me your God, I will kill you. I am only one emotion away from doing it now. My grandmother was one of the ones you ‘cleaned’ in the good old days. Now call him.”

Garcia walked over to his desk as a knock came to the door followed by Selina and a tray of coffee and biscuits. Sanchez hid his Glock. She walked over to the coffee and table and as she approached the table she tripped and hot coffee splashed over Sanchez. Before he could react she pulled a revolver from under the tray and pointed it at Sanchez. “He never greets me when he comes into his office. And he doesn’t drink coffee.” She motioned to Garcia. “Are you alright sir?”

Garcia moved quickly to Sanchez and took his Glock. “Now yours Senorita,” he motioned to Angelica.

“Don’t do this Garcia,” Sanchez implored as he shook the coffee from his burnt face. “You have already been exposed. You can’t get away.”

“What does he mean exposed?” Salina

“Salina, the time has come for all loyal and pure Guatemalans to take our rightful place. Today you have earned a special place in that movement.”

Salina looked hesitant and lowered her gun. Garcia lifted the Glock and shot her in the forehead. “Sorry Senorita, but there is no room for hesitation in our world.”

“What now?” Angelica yelled. “That shot will bring every soldier on the base here. I doubt any are on your side.”

“It doesn’t matter now. After I make the call to Mason it will all be well.”

Garcia moved quickly to his desk while keeping the Glock aimed at Sanchez and Angelica. He lifted the receiver and pushed a speed dial. “Things went wrong and Alvarez and the girl got away. I was arrested but it is okay now. I can get away now if you send the plane back for me.”

The screaming on the phone was so loud that Angelica and Sanchez could hear the gist of the conversation from 4 metres away.

“Hello? Hello?” Garcia yelled into the phone. He gently placed the phone back in the receiver. “I was too late. He watched the disc on the computer on his Lear. Now others will have to take my place.” He put the muzzle of the Glock in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

 

FIFTY-TWO

 

May 12,2016

 

 

“He did it,” Richard announced.

“What?” Mary had been studying her iPhone watching the movement of the ‘find your phone’ dot.

“It appears that he couldn’t wait until he landed to check out and brag about his latest porn. He apparently has a computer and a satellite connection in the Lear and he just connected and downloaded the contents of the drive to his computer and the host server. They don’t yet know where the server is, but the trackers downloaded will find it. It is in the U.S. somewhere so he —and many others—will face big charges.”

“So it all worked? The operation worked?”

“A few bumps, but yes it appears that this dark web porn distribution site will be shut down. He must realize something has gone wrong since he has apparently diverted the Lear to Cuba. Maybe with the new relationship with the U.S. they will send him back. At any rate, we can now concentrate on getting those four home.”

“No problem crossing borders now?”

“Nope. The Guatemalan military has captured their bad guys. We have ours. So they will send someone to get them from Tikal. They should be there in a few hours.”

Mary glanced at her phone. “Where are they going? Where is ‘there’?

“What do you mean?”

Mary handed him the phone. “They aren’t near Tikal anymore. They are headed at high speed straight into the jungle. There must be a back road that doesn’t show up on Google maps. See if you can download some Guatemalan topo maps of the region. See where they are going.”

“They won’t know that they are now safe. Can you call Melinda?”

“No. I have GPS but no cell service there. We can track them but not talk to them.”

“Hmmm. You call the military—Sanchez isn’t it? I’ll find the maps.”

 

FIFTY-THREE

 

May 12 ,2016

 

 

“Why are they following us?” Laura yelled over the roar of the engine. “No one is supposed to know we aren’t with Sanchez.”

“I don’t know,” Melinda offered. “Either the operation is blown and Morales has told Mason what happened, or he has simply gone rogue. But whatever, he is coming after us —quickly.”

“I am going to guess rogue,” Alvarez suggested. “If the operation was blown Sanchez would have sent people to get us.”

“Hold on,” Adrian ordered as he swerved through another corner. “The first of the three villages we pass through is just ahead. Let’s hope the road is clear.”

The first village consisted of a one-room health centre, a thatched roof school, a smattering of houses similar to Sanchez’s, and the requisite three churches. Faces stared at them through cloth-covered windows as the Austin raced through the centre of the village.

“So far so good,” Adrian suggested. “There are two more sharp curves at the 4 and 7 kilometre mark and two more villages between. We should be at Sanchez’s home in less than 10 minutes.”

“How do you know all of this Adrian,” Alvarez asked.

“He’s eidetic Grandpa.”

“Eu what?”

“Eidetic. Means he remembers things the rest of us forget. Just believe him.”

In nine minutes they were in a 500 metre straight stretch leading into Sanchez’s village and while they could see the dust from the chasing bikes, they were out of sight.

“When I stop the car, Laura, you and Melanie grab two of the packs from the trunk and run as fast as you can down the trail behind the house. You will know when to stop. Elesio, I’ll grab the other one. You follow with your gun in case they get too close?”

They all nodded. Alvarez pulled the Glock from his waste band as the Austin swerved into the dirt packed yard in front of the house and swerved to a dusty stop. Laura and Melanie grabbed the packs. Alvarez stood guard at the front of the car, peering into the dust to see what was behind them. Adrian picked up the second pack as the four bikes turned the last curve and accelerated down the 500-metre stretch before the house.

“Here they come. And they can see us now,” Alvarez shouted.

“Can you shoot?”

“I won’t hit anything moving that speed at two hundred yards, but it might slow them down,” he yelled as he raised the gun and with a two handed grip fired three shots at the fast approaching bikers. To his surprise on of the trailing bikes slid down and across the gravel road. “Let’s go!”

By the time they caught up with Melanie and Laura, the women were standing at the edge of a football field sized pond. Melanie was breathing heavily. Laura was dancing on her toes. “What now? Swim?”

“Over there. Quickly,” Adrian ordered as he pointed to the inflatable kayaks that he and Sanchez had used to go fishing. “Get in those and start paddling to the end of the pond. Follow me when we get there.”

“I can’t swim,” Alvarez yelled in a panic.

“You come with Elesio,” Melanie offered. “If we tip, I’ll pull you in. Unless you want to wait for them to get here?”

There were three kayaks pulled up on the muddy shore. All had kayak type paddles resting in them and life jackets hooked to the gunnel ropes. Adrian and Alvarez pushed two of them into the water and took the stern seats while Laura and Melanie jumped in the front and started to paddle towards the end of the pond as the first bullet ricocheted off the water beside them.

Alvarez turned around. One of the men had reached the edge of the pond 50 metres away and was aiming for a second shot. Alvarez figured the man only missed the first shot since he was out of breath and rushed the shot. This time he was taking careful aim in a two handed grip. Alvarez swing up his own Glock and shot with a long lost instinct honed in his years as a Kaibile. His bullet must have hit its target as the instant that the man pulled his trigger since his shot missed their kayak by half a metre. The man dropped his gun and grabbed his arm.

“Elesio,” Adrian yelled. “The other Kayak.”

Alvarez turned his aim to the third kayak and shot four shots into the pontoons of the kayak. He then emptied his gun into the path leading from Sanchez’s house to the pond. He dropped the gun onto the floor of the kayak. “Go. Go,” he shouted to Melanie as he grabbed his own paddle and pulled hard.

Within thirty seconds the two kayaks had reached the end of the pond where the water disappeared over a waterfall and continued as a 10-meter wide river flowing into the jungle beyond. Adrian and Laura went over the waterfall first. It was only 5 metres high but the water was flowing fast and the turbulence in the pool below the waterfall was frothy. They bounced into the turbulence and floated to a small eddy at the side of the river. As another shot thwacked a branch of a tree beside the waterfall, Alvarez hoped none of them could see the fear on his face as he and Melanie followed them over the falls. Instead of paddling into the drop, Alvarez dropped his paddle and gripped the gunnel ropes that ran from stem to stern. In a millisecond they were sideways in the waterfall and in a further second both were dumped into the cauldron below. Alvarez felt himself drawn down into the swirling water. His worst nightmare unfolded as the water he always hated pulled and gripped him in a circular turbulence he couldn’t escape. He could not see and he couldn’t breathe. He lost all sense of time and space as he grasped for air and swallowed river water.

“It is just a little pond,” Melanie lectured him as she grabbed his shirt collar and pulled him to the muddy shore. Adrian and Laura had recovered their kayaks and paddles and were waiting at the top of the next waterfall. “Don’t be a baby.”

Alvarez lay in the mud gasping for air. “Monkey’s don’t swim,” he sputtered. “The truth of it is I always hated the water. My long arms and stubby legs aren’t exactly the lithe shape for swimming.”

“I’ll take the stern from now on. You just get a lifejacket on and hold on tight.”

“You know how to do this?”

“Grew up whitewater canoeing in Northern Saskatchewan. And Burt and I did a three-day kayak river trip in Belize when we first went to scout out the location for your golf course. So yup, I know how to do this.”

“Do we have to do more of it?” Alvarez whined.

“About twenty kilometres of it Elesio,” Adrian yelled over the sound of the rushing water as he and Laura brought them their kayak. And I figure 40 or 50 waterfalls like this. Maybe bigger?”

“How do you know this?”

“I studied some topo maps back home. The river ends at the Rio Mopan not far from the Belize highway. We should be safe once we get there.”

“What about them?”

“As far as I could see there is no access to the river except at one point halfway where a dotted line meets the river where it widens into a small lake like the one we just left. It’s probably a local fishing spot. But we had better get going now in case they figure out a way through the jungle to this spot.”

“And it will be dark in two hours,” Laura added. “We can’t do a river like this in the dark. We need to find a place to spend the night.”

“If you dump again,” Melanie offered as they climbed into the kayak. “Roll yourself into ball and the current will spit you out. I’ll save you again if you are nice to me.”

“Gee thanks. I’ll scare the bats away for you.”

They both laughed. “Deal,” Melanie agreed.

“The gun,” Alvarez suddenly announced. “I lost the gun when we dumped.”

“Hopefully we will not need it again,” Melanie offered as they watched Adrian and Laura disappear over the next waterfall. “They don’t have a kayak to follow us.”

 

FIFTY-FOUR

 

May 12,2016

A robbers’ den…

 

 

“When we hit a waterfall,” Adrian heard Melanie order as she and Alvarez approached the next waterfall. “Wait for my order and then paddle hard.”

Adrian now realized that they were not going to be able to portage around any of the falls. He was no stranger to white water canoeing. He had done many canoe trips on the Churchill River in Northern Saskatchewan with his uncle and cousins. But they always portaged the 18 feet Scott over any waterfall more than a metre drop. A spill or a smashed canoe in the spring fed, cold river water was too risky.

“Now!” Melanie yelled as the bow entered the cauldron where the water converged in the narrow gorge that shot out into the wider river below. Adrian was sure that the inflatable was totally airborne as the thrust of his own and Laura’s paddles spit them through the gorge slightly faster that the rushing current. The drop was only a metre, but the bow —and Laura in front— hit the water at the bottom of the drop with a teeth-crunching thud. Instead of diving into the water, the bow of the inflatable stayed on the surface. The kayak momentarily bent in the middle and then snapped back to shape as Adrian paddled the inflatable to a calm area below the falls. Adrian and Laura turned to watch Melanie effortlessly fly the inflatable —and a wide-eyed Alvarez—over the falls and softly land in the calm below.

“That was fun eh?” Melanie laughed. “I forgot to tell you what I told scaredy pants here. If you fall out at the bottom of the falls, roll into a ball and let the current take you to the surface. Otherwise the rolling current could keep you under for too long.”

Adrian knew where they were going and how many waterfalls they had to fly before they got there. From his memory of the map, after 10 kilometres the river went through a narrow ravine—he could only imagine the rapids at the point where the river narrowed to only a few metres—and then widened to small lake before going through another ravine at the other end of the lake. He guessed that the narrow ravine at the exit acted as a sort of damn, creating the small lake—more a pond than a lake from the size shown on the topo map. But it was not the lake-pond that suggested it might be the end of the paddle. This was the spot where the river was closest to the dotted line showing a path or track of some sort. The main road between to Belize was a twisty seven kilometres away from the spot where the river met the track,.

“Now!” Melanie yelled again as they shot the next waterfall, actually more a series of rapids. The water shot between large rocks on either side as the kayak surfed the curling coils of froth. When they hit the roiling pool at the bottom the kayak twisted sideways. Adrian was twisting the opposite direction of the fall, trying to use his body lean to correct the line. He knew right away that it was the wrong thing to do. His uncle had often taken him on long rides on the twisted roads around the reserve on his BMW 800G and he had constantly instructed him to lean with the curve and the bike’s lean —not against it as instinct would suggest. It was the same with the kayak as it rammed through the shoot and leaned heavily left with the current. Adrian instinctively leaned right and was immediately thrown into the swirl at the bottom of the fall. He tried to swim to the surface but kept getting pushed down by the undertow. He remembered Melanie’s directions and rolled into ball. After what seemed like minutes, the current rolled him out into the calm water where he broke the surface and gasped for air.

“Want to get our lunch while you are down there?” Laura laughed as she handed him his paddle and helped him back into the canoe. “How much further Adrian?”

“We are about halfway to where the river meets that trail I told you about.”

Melanie and Alvarez shot the falls and sidled up to their Kayak. “If you are finished your swim, let’s do the next one. The sun is going down. We need to find a place to pull off for the night.”

Adrian glanced at the thick jungle around them. “That small lake I told you about looks promising? Only five kilometres of rapids before then.”

Alvarez groaned and pretended to throw up over the edge of the Kayak. “Just find me some good Guatemalan soil kid.”

It was dusk and 6:30 as they reached the ravine. All of the force of the river surged through the 20 metre long, 3 metre wide ravine. An ordinary boat or canoe of any sort would never try shooting this. But after 20 waterfalls and as many rapids, Melanie showed her skill, and even Adrian was getting better at using the current rather than fighting it. Alvarez was white with fear and screamed as the kayaks entered the narrow ravine. Adrian and Laura ricocheted off the steep sides of the ravine and were shot into the calm of the small lake. Adrian wiped the river water from his eyes and surveyed the scene in front of him. Melanie and Alvarez followed.

“Can I open my eyes yet?” Alvarez asked.

They all laughed as they slowly paddled into the calm water.

Adrian had known what topography to expect. He had not expected the beauty. The lake was about the size of a Canadian football field. It was totally surrounded by steep ridges so the only way he could see to get to the lake was through the river ravine that they had just shot. The shoreline was a mixture of colours—the hued green of jungle vegetation, tossed like a green salad with the reds and yellows of plants he didn’t recognize. The sun was hidden by the steep walls, but the last vestiges of light basked the Eastern peak of top ridge. They pulled into a small beach on their right. Adrian noticed for the first time the camp that emerged from the jungle canopy.

“What is this?” Laura asked as they pulled the kayak on shore and started to lug the backpacks up the muddy shore to the clean and dry savannah grass.

Adrian stared as he walked further into the greenery. This was not marked on any topo map he had looked at. It was a small village, similar in many ways to the cavern. He counted three buildings with their backsides bumped up against the steep slope of the ridge. They weren’t full buildings but log frames covered on all sides with rust coloured screening. The roofs were palapa and the floor was sand. A small three-sided palapa walled structure stood between the gazebo type structures. A larger palapa covered roof that sheltered a crudely constructed plank table and a rusty cook stove fronted the huts. Adrian could not see any sign of recent habitation of any of the huts or of the shelter.

“What is this place?”

Alvarez scanned his hand over the huts. “I don’t know. It’s probably a fishing camp for one of the villages. Or maybe another damn revolutionary hiding place we never knew about.” He gestured back to the river and the rapids. “No wonder we never found this place. It could be a place used by our people for centuries to hide when necessary. It could also be a place where the robbers on the Tikal highway camped. That would explain the updated screens on the huts. But it looks like it hasn’t been used for years. During the revolution days, people like your grandmother —needed places to hide before they got out of the country. The cavern was probably one and this place is conveniently located close to the Belize border so this could have been their last stop before they made a rush to the border.”

“Maybe,” Adrian interjected. “Or maybe just a robber’s den as you said. I read that tourists used to get robbed on the Tikal highway all the time in the 90s. It is only 7 km from the main highway. But Sanchez told me a similar story about the cavern. I wonder if my Grandma was actually here? How would they get to the border from here? I could see the Rio Mopan on the topo maps, but there would be lots of people there wouldn’t there? And wouldn’t it be easy to block the border crossing? Besides,” he waved his hand at the steep slope behind them. “ I don’t see how my Grandma —even a younger one—could climb those slopes to get to the trail up there. And the run on the river to the Rio Mopan looks like it is more waterfall than river.”

Alvarez shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t really know Adrian. Maybe you’ll have to ask your grandmother theses questions when you get home, or maybe find a retired robber to interrogate.”

Laura rummaged in the pack. “Ready for dinner guys?” She pulled out three packages of freeze-dried food that were left. “Gourmet again folks. Chicken Korma suit your palate? Adrian get some plates and cutlery from a box under the stove,” she ordered as she dumped the content of the packets into a pot of boiling water. “But wash them first eh? So you were really a bad guy Grandpa?” Laura added as she dished the mush into their bowls. “Maybe if you had been a better bad guy then you would have caught Adrian’s grandmother and he wouldn’t be here now?”

Alvarez blew on his food to cool it down. “Forbid the thought! But in revolutionary times the line between good and bad is fine. I was only a Kaibile for a short period of time in my youth, but I also saw what an Indigenous ‘revolutionary’ could do to a captured soldier. The Mayans were fierce and feared warriors 1000 years ago and the art of slow killing was perfected before your ancestors learned to take a bath more than once a year. At one time there were a million or more of our ancestors living in this part of northern Guatemala. We were part of a Mayan nation of millions, stretching into Belize, Nicaragua, Mexico and beyond.”

“What happened? Where did they all go?” Laura asked through slurps of her curry.

“No one is really sure. The best guess is some apocalyptic environmental event that starved everyone out.”

“That is what Sanchez suggested too,” Adrian added.

“Like is happening around the world today?” Laura observed.

“Maybe,” Melanie interjected. “As you saw in Tikal, the Mayans were a very advanced civilization who weren’t able to adapt to a changing environment. Maybe the world could learn from their history before it is too late?”

“They probably had their own climate change deniers who reached levels of power and figured that denying climate events was better for their own personal good.”

“We have lots of those in Alberta,” Adrian offered. “The short term economy is more important than long term survival.”

“And now the U.S. could have someone like Donald Trump who believes that climate change is a Chinese hoax,” Laura added. “Maybe someday a family will sit around a campfire in some part of the world wondering why western civilization disappeared?”

“Could be Laura. Could be,” Alvarez agreed, not missing the reference to family.

Adrian nodded and got up and walked down to the edge of the lake and sat on a log bench. As May progressed, the rain grew longer and harder. Sanchez had told him that the rainy season is quickly approaching and then the road to the village will turn to an impassable mud track. There have been times when he was a young man, Sanchez had told him, that the swollen river was the only way out of the village. If there was an emergency, or if someone just needed to get out, they made the river trip and then made their way to the Belize highway. Even that highway was a pretty muddy track in the rainy season fifty years ago. But it was closer than the muddy trip to Flores before the road to Tikal was paved.

The rain suddenly turned torrential.

“Pick a gazebo Adrian,” Melanie ordered as she picked up one of the packs and prepared for the dash to the closest structure. “It will be dark in a moment. Get some sleep. I checked them out. There are log beds made of rope, but they are comfortable enough. Laura, come with me before you get drenched.”

Alvarez stayed sitting on the log by the fire, partly protected from the rain by the palapa roof. “How far to the Rio Mopan from here Adrian?”

Adrian sat beside him on the log. “Another twisty 15 kilometres. But it looks like the river smooths out as we approach it.”

“That’s good news!”

“Didn’t like the river?”

Alvarez gave him a penetrating stare.

“Okay. Okay,” Adrian laughed. “If I couldn’t swim I’d be nervous as well.”

Alvarez poked the ashes with a stick and some sparks flew into the palapa roof. “You like her don’t you?”

“Nah. That’s why I flew 6000 kilometers, spent a month in a village building a school, almost drowned in an underground river and risked getting shot at in the Plaza. Nah. I don’t care much for her.’

Alvarez chuckled. “Stupid question. But I am her grandfather you know. I need to know if your intentions are honorable.”

“You’ll beg my pardon sir, but I wonder if you have earned the right to exercise that responsibility. I know that you abandoned her for 15 years. I know that you are wealthy while her mother struggles on student loans to go to school. I know you have never seen her play hockey. Never seen her report cards. Never listened to the music she loves. And I haven’t even started with the kidnapping and the porn and the drugs”

Alvarez was silent as he poked the fire.

“I am sorry sir,” Adrian offered.” I shouldn’t have said those things.”

‘Families are complicated Adrian. All of the things you have pointed out are correct. Except maybe the drugs and porn. I knew nothing about that. But it is a good point. When does a father —or a grandfather—earn the right to exercise their responsibility? It’s strange. I have tried all my life to do just that with my son and my heart is empty. I have tried for the past month to do it with Laura and my heart is bursting.”

“Mine too sir.”

“Maybe it is time you called me Elesio? We are both men now.”

“She is my best friend Elesio. I would do anything for her. Is that love?”

“Don’t ask me,” Alvarez offered him his hand with a chuckle. “Not sure I’m the best expert on love. But that is good enough for me. I accept that your intentions are good.”

Adrian nodded.

“It will be pitch black in a moment. Let’s get some sleep. We have a river to shoot in the morning. Wonderful!”

“What about the Zetas?”

“I know Morales well. I actually trained him when I was an instructor with the Kaibiles. He is a cruel, but persistent man. And he has a grudge with me.”

“Why you? You said you have been gone from the Kaibiles for 30 years?”

"After he maimed another soldier in a Temv- K'a fight I recommended his discharge. That, and he resented that he could never beat me. Then add the fact that I left and became successful and he became an outlaw?"

“What does that mean for us?”

“Well I don’t see him coming down that river after us in a deflated kayak. And his men will not like being too close to either civilization or the Belize border, so he has probably given up and gone home.”

“You don’t believe that do you?”

“No. Morale’s weakness—even in a fight—was not to know when he was beaten. If he can learn where this river leads to—Rio Mopan you say?—we will have to consider that he might be waiting there.”

“What should we do? You lost the gun!”

“One empty pistol against four wouldn’t be much good anyhow Adrian. I don’t know what we will do. Let’s sleep on it and figure things out in the morning.”

Adrian picked up his own pack and ran for the shelter. Alvarez had given the other two packs to Melanie and Laura. He estimated that the structure was the size of a cottage gazebo in Saskatchewan cabin country. There was a framed screen door, but the rest of the construction was screen except for the palapa roof. Four single beds abutted the back wall. As Melanie had said, they were rope beds like in the cavern cabins.

Alvarez soon joined him. Adrian scanned the inside with the light, pointing his head where he wanted to look. He pulled out the MEC bed net that he had brought with him and stood on the bed to put a small screw in one of the roof beams. After hooking the net and spreading it over the corners of the bed he unfurled and shook out the silk cocoon that he used to sleep in. He took a book from his pack, climbed under the net, removed his Keen sandals, and crawled into the cocoon. He stuffed the pack into the built in pillow covering of the cocoon and lay back with his book.

Alvarez lay on the rope bed without any covering and Adrian heard his snores within three minutes.

“Cato and Marcus. Where are you?” he chuckled as the rhythm of the rain on the palapa lulled him to sleep

 

FIFTY-FIVE

 

May 12, 2016

Send in the cavalry…

 

 

Richard downed his third shot of Botran and reached for the bottle and a slice of lime. “Where are they now?”

“According to Google maps, somewhere in the middle of the jungle between Tikal and the Rio Mopan just before the Belize border,” Mary replied. “And save some of that rum for me eh?”

They had both been introduced to the Guatemalan rum when they changed Gord’s drink from Bushmills to Botran. Richard often says they have to drink it in his memory. “Do you remember him enough now?” Mary would always reply. Richard and Gord had been friends since they were students together at the University of Toronto. Richard had recruited the Ph.D., linguistics Professor to the agency and got him the position of Vice President International at Trudeau University. Then, after twenty years and nineteen jobs for the agency, Gord was “outed” as the agency liked to say. Richard and Mary helped him fake his death and start a new life with a new identity as a second rate golf professional at a resort in Mexico. It was on one last job for the agency that he and Melanie had met and fallen in love. Now Burt was dead for the second time and they had forced Melanie to help the agency.

“You know that she would have refused if it wasn’t for Gord’s granddaughter?” Mary had chided Richard after they approached her.

“Probably.”

“What are you going to do when she refuses the next job? She made it clear from the start with Gord that she wouldn’t kill—anymore that is.”

“I’m not sure. We’ll cover that issue when it arises. Assassinations are less in vogue now anyhow. What do you think the young Trudeau would do if he knew there was a secretly operating unit of the Canadian security agency?”

“Frankly I’d worry more about Wikileaks. Today not much can be kept secret from social media.”

Richard passed her the Botran. “What do the topo maps show?”

Mary shoved her MacBook Pro across the table. “Not much more for that area of Guatemala. There is a river that runs between some villages and the Rio Mopan, but it appears to be all waterfalls and rapids. There is path of some sort that runs from the Tikal highway to the river about halfway between Tikal and the lake. Combining the two maps I would say that they are currently at the point where the path meets the river.”

“Are they moving?”

“No. It is almost 11. It’s well after dark and I doubt they would move before light. Too easy to get lost in that jungle.”

Mary was interrupted by a motorcycle sound from her iPhone.

Richard grimaced. “You have to change that.”

“You mean to a grown up sound like the quacking ducks on yours?” She glanced at the phone. “It is Adrian’s grandmother. She had been calling every half hour to see where they are and when they will be safe. I’d better answer.”

“Hello Dr. Campbell.”

“Yes. We know where they are. It appears that they have been delayed in crossing the Belize border.”

“Exactly? Not sure exactly. They are apparently spending the night somewhere in the jungle near a river that leads from near Tikal to the Rio Mopan. The Federales have said they will send a helicopter in the morning to look for them.”

“Alright. It will just take a moment.”

Mary tapped the close button. “She wants me to send her a copy of the Google map location.”

“Why? What can she do from Calgary?”

“I don’t know, but I’ll give her access to Melanie’s ‘Find Your Phone’ and she can look for herself.” Mary sipped her Botran. “Can’t the Federales just go in now and get them?”

“Sanchez said earlier he is having trouble getting his bosses to authorize a rescue mission. Apparently our group isn’t much of a priority since the operation finished. He says that they aren’t in any danger as long they stay in the cavern. He will personally go get them in the morning. But I can’t get through to him to tell him that they have left the cavern and headed into the jungle. We can only wait now I think.”

“Were we right all those years?” the Botran always made Mary melancholy. She had started with the agency twenty-five years ago as Richard’s secretary and a world-class hacker. Richard recruited her from a U.S. prison where the twenty year old, torso tattooed Canadian was serving twenty years for hacking into the CIA and then the MacDonald’s server and giving all minimum wage workers a double digit raise. “I mean I know that we were—are — part of a UN sanctioned operation, but were we always right? Either morally or factually? This time we almost issued an order on the wrong person. Melanie could have killed Alvarez?”

“That was never our call to make Mary. You know that. Every job was UN sanctioned and had a rationale that was assumed to be factually —rather than politically—based. They were all bad men and women.”

“Maybe someone will decide that we are bad? Isn’t ‘bad’ someone’s judgment and isn’t ‘bad’ relative to circumstance and history?”

Richard got up and walked over behind her. “That is why I love you girl? You never see things in straight lines, but in shades of grey. And yes, bad is certainly relative. Remember the first job Gord did in Iraq? The woman ran a slave-prostitution ring and someone certainly figured at that time that the only way to break it up was to cut off the head of the serpent. But her younger brother is now an ISIS leader. Is it the law of unintended consequences that we took care of one problem and created another?

“Is that all you love about me?”

Mary and Richard were late lovers —the classic office romance. She was twenty years younger than him and she had never been married. He was sixty years old and left behind a long ignored wife and three adult children. “Ha! Not likely.”

“Hello,” Mary answered and listened. “Really. And how do you know this?” The answer was brief. “Will do. Thanks.”

Mary punched a speed dial on the phone. “Sanchez. This is Mary Johnston. Please return our calls. Our group has left the cavern and are somewhere in the jungle between Tikal and the border. I just talked to Adrian’s grandma. She said to call you, say Midewiwin, and tell you they are at the river camp. She said you would know what to do. Call me.” She hung up.

“What was that all about? What was the Mide what what thing?”

“No idea. She just told me to say it. But Adrian’s Grandmother knew where they were. She wouldn’t say how she knew; just that it was a camp and Sanchez would know where it was. Now that we know where they are let’s go and get them in the Four Runner.”

“There isn’t anything we can do in the dark Mary. He rubbed her shoulders. Let’s go to bed. We can get up before dawn and drive to the path that leads to the river. Maybe it is drivable and we can find them then. Maybe we will have heard from Sanchez by then and he will have been able to get them. A night in the open jungle will not hurt them,” he grimaced. “Maybe.”

 

FIFTY-SIX

 

May 12, 2016

The truth shall set you free…

 

 

 

“Can we talk about my Grandfather now?” Laura asked as she lay on her rope bed staring at the underside of the palapa roof through the netting.

“What would you like to know?”

“For a starter, did you know him before he died? Or afterward?”

Melanie didn’t answer the question right away. “Why don’t you start by telling me about you and your Grandfather?”

“Which one?”

“Grandpa Gord?” Melanie suggested.

“Ok. Mother started sending me to my grandparents in the summer when I was eight, as soon as I could fly from Calgary to Ottawa on her own. I remember that my grandmother had her own job and was more interested in her own holiday time when she could strategize and party with her NDP friends. Grandpa Gord, on the other hand, had holiday time that he had to use and no one to spend it with. So my —at least initially— reluctant grandfather and me became conspirators in the wasting of time.

I remember the first summer was awkward. He had told me later that he simply didn’t know what eight year olds did.”

“So what did you do together?”

“He started the visit by taking me to the park down by the river where all of the other children played. He sat on one of the benches along with a mixture of Pilipino nannies and young mothers, many in various states of further pregnancy, and watched me play. He told me later that he didn’t fit in with the crowd. As he described it, the nannies clustered around each other like a sports team at a party. Their talk was animated and there was much laughter—probably at the expense of an employer. The young mothers socialized more in pairs, alternately sharing stories of precocious offspring and successful partners. They interrupted their conversations every three minutes or so with a perfunctory yell at a child hidden somewhere in the mass of plastic and piping. He told me he could never see which child they were yelling at, but couldn’t see any visible change in behavior, although it must have worked since the mother went quickly back to her conversation. He gave me a yell every once a while as well—just to prove to the wary glances that he wasn’t an old pervert but an involved grandpa.”

“When did he start teaching you to fight?”

“I’ll get to that. One day he told me that I was either a natural leader or a natural bully. Apparently within minutes of arriving at the playground, I was organizing the other children into roles. “You are the customer and she is the store clerk,” I would order a boy and girl as I set up piles of sand as imaginary condiments on a plastic shelf under the plastic slide. “You come into the store asking for chocolates for your mother. The clerk goes to give it to you and then this boy—I pulled a clearly reluctant five year old boy into the group—comes in and tries to rob the store. I guided everyone into position. I told him; “Then you yell police! Police!” And I would come into the store and arrest the robber. Then we would all bake some cookies for the jail so the robber will not go hungry.

My little gang baked cookies and cakes—one wanted to make pizza—until one by one they lost interest or was called to go home, and I would move on to find another group of volunteers for my fantasy world.

One morning as I played by myself going back and forward, hand over hand, on the ladder bar —Grandpa never made me wear a helmet like the other kids—a boy pushed me out of the way to do it himself. I pushed back. The boy was much larger and pushed me again. This time I fell on the sand. I got up from the sand and with a closed fist punched the boy on the nose.”

“You punched him in the nose?” Melanie interrupted, laughing? “At eight years old?”

“Yeah. But I was nine or ten I think then. And the screams and the blood got the mother’s attention.”

“So what did Gord—Grandpa do?”

“This girl should be in jail,” the mother yelled at me as she tried to stop both the bleeding and the sobbing.

“He pushed me first,” I told her.

The mother ignored me. “If you can’t control her then she shouldn’t be able to play with other children,” she hissed at Grandpa.

“You shouldn’t hit other people Laura,” he chided me as we walked back to the house.

“Why not? He pushed me?”

“Well, it is just that sometimes physical retaliation isn’t the best way to resolve those things.”

“Wouldn’t you fight back if some man attacked you?”

“He told me he would defend himself. But not necessarily attack in return.”

“I didn’t understand what he meant. That is when we started the fighting,” she remembered.

“You started fighting each other?”

“Sort of,” she answered. He asked me, “We began a new phase of our relationship. There was no more playground. No more watching while I played. During the second summer, we spent hours in his basement gym and music studio. He taught me the rudimentary defensive movements of Wing Chun. And I enjoyed his blue’s collection more than Sesame Street. That’s my favorite one, I declared one afternoon as we listened to some blues over peanut butter sandwiches and freezies. I told him I would sing it to my Father if he ever comes again. I asked him to make it our song. He didn’t know that people needed a song.”

“A deal,” he offered. And we shook on it.” That will be our secret song.”

“The next summer I stayed for a month. They enrolled me in every summer camp for kids she could find. There were swimming lessons. I was in the tennis camp at the local community centre. Soccer. Grandpa enrolled me in the kid’s golf school at his golf club. I dutifully did all of the things they had arranged for me, and I could choose to be good at any of the activities —better, in fact, than any of the other children there. But I saved my enthusiasm for the free time with Grandpa in the basement gym and studio. We listened to music. We practiced Wing Chun. And talked.”

“So how is school going?”

“Okay. I like science.”

“Got a boyfriend?”

“Oh Grandpa,” she scolded as she tried a roundhouse kick. “I am too young for boyfriends. Besides.” The kick was a feint and she shot her right arm at his chest. “All the boys are wimps.”

“What do you mean wimps?” Gord blocked the arm. And shot out his fist.

“None of them will fight me.” Her open palm was in the way of his hit even before it got close to her face.

“You’re supposed to love them not fight them Laura.” This time he had to block a real kick.

“Yuck.” She backed away and took the ready stance.

“You have been practicing?”

“I got a book from the library. Practiced in my bedroom when mom wasn’t looking. She doesn’t approve of fighting.”

“Neither does Grandma.”

“But she is never around so we can practice a lot. Okay?”

“Is your mom around a lot?”

“When she isn’t at school. She goes to school too you know.”

“In the evenings we watched movies and listened to music. By the end of the summer I could recognize and name hundreds of blues songs from Grandpa’s collection. By the end of fourth summer—when I was thirteen—I could name and hum all twenty seven hundred and fifty songs on Grandpa’s iPad. One of the last things we did together that last summer was to have a name that song contest. Winner got ice cream. I won.

“You cheat,” he whined. “You listened to these songs all winter.”

“The previous summer he had loaded the songs onto a small Apple music player he had given me for my birthday.”

“They’re your songs Grandpa.”

“It was also in that last visit that he finally noticed my special ability. As we did every summer, I had been enrolled in a variety of summer sport and camp activities. By the time I was thirteen I had lost interest in most of them and only the soccer and swimming remained. I was the goalie in soccer and that was where he noticed something strange. One day he watched as I she stopped the hardest and most challenging shots. And then let in a couple of dribblers. Not enough that my team lost. After that game we went out for the usual ice cream.”

“Nice game.”

“Yeah. Always good to win.”

“Your team always wins.”

Laura licked the ice cream from around the edge of her cone. “Good players.”

Gord ran his tongue around the top of his lump of ice cream, making a perfect sphere. “You always win at hockey too?”

Laura’s mother had put her in a girl’s hockey league in Calgary. She was the goalie there as well.

She attacked the top of the mound of ice cream. “Pretty much.”

He finished the ice cream part and threw the empty cone in the garbage pail beside the small outdoor table they were sitting at. “Why did you let those goals in today?”

She stared intently at her cone as she licked the last of the ice cream and took a big bite out of the cone.

“They had good players too, you know.”

“That summer was the last time I saw him,” Laura quietly announced as she finished her story.

Melanie started singing quietly.

Since you’ve been gone, I’ve had time to myself. Never tried to find somebody else.”

Laura sat up in bed and joined in.

“When you told me you were leaving,

It almost came as good news.

It may sound funny, but it is true.

I think I am better off with the blues.”

They were both gently sobbing when they finished.

“That was our secret song—Better of with the Blues,” Laura choked.

“He told me many times Laura. He loved you very much.”

“So he didn’t die in a fire?”

“No. He died peacefully and quickly of cancer only a year ago.”

“Why couldn’t he tell me?” Laura sobbed.

“That’s a longer story. Just accept that he had your safety at heart when he decided to disappear forever.”

“Were you married?”

“Yes.”

“So now you are my grandmother?”

Melanie had not yet processed the reality that she might now have some responsibility for a child. Like the grandfather Gord, she wasn’t sure that she knew what that meant. But if affection was a condition for responsibility then she knew she was on the right path. “For sure Melanie. I am your Grandmother,” she consoled.

Both lapsed into their own thoughts, silence and sleep, lulled by that steady patter of the evening rain on the palapa covered roof.

 

FIFTY-SEVEN

 

May 13, 2016

A tourist destination …

 

 

Sanchez and Angelica had spent the last six hours in separate jail cells at the army base. Both were tired, hungry and desperate to convince the army that someone needed to go and get Alvarez and Laura. Garcia’s gunshots had brought three of the guards at the administration office entrance crashing into his office, weapons ready.

“Down! Down!” the leader ordered Angelica and Sanchez as he scanned the scene of two dead bodies and them standing.

Both immediately complied. “Federales,” Sanchez yelled. “My back pocket.” He did not want to reach for his ID. The three soldiers were confused and clearly stressed.

They were quickly handcuffed and placed in separate cells. “We need to contact Guatemala City. They will decide what to do,” the soldier had announced.

That had been six hours ago. Sanchez had heard the helicopter arrive after two hours, and an hour later he was brought into an interrogation room. Two uniformed, five star generals and a suited civilian sat across he table from him. The Generals were men he recognized as career army and 58 and 62 years old respectively. He did not recognize the younger civilian. In his forties Sanchez guessed.

“Tell us in your words what happened Sanchez,” the General ordered. “I should tell you we have your daughter and all of the soldiers that were at Tikal in custody and they will answer questions as well.”

Sanchez started to tell them about Garcia shooting Salina and himself.

“No Sanchez,” the General ordered. “Start at what happened at Tikal. We want to hear it all from the beginning.”

“Sir. We have civilians that are hiding near Tikal that need to be brought here. Can you authorize that immediately?”

The General looked at the civilian.

“In due time Sanchez,” the second General responded. “Your story first please?”

Sanchez paused. He was not sure where he should start so that somebody would go and get the four they left behind. And he was not sure how much of the whole story these two men knew.

“Agent Gonzales and I were following a tip…”

“Your daughter?”

“Yes. Agent Gonzales and I were following a tip…”

“From whom?” the man in the suit interrupted again.

“A man I know who works at the school. A gardener.”

“The Betancur school?”

“Yes. He told me that he had seen a bag of drugs put in a closet at the school. And later that he saw Senor Alvarez put the back pack with the drugs in the van.”

“The van that he put the girls into?”

“Yes. I was at my village visiting my mother and intersected with the van at the visitor’s centre. We watched while the gringo Mason took the pack and left while Garcia marched Alvarez into the plaza with a gun in is back.”

“Since you were only interested in the drugs why didn’t you follow the man Mason? Why go into the plaza?”

“Since it looked like Garcia was somehow involved and Alvarez was in trouble I felt I should see if he needed help. Angelica—agent Gonzales—called in the information that Mason had the drugs. Someone else had to decide what to do with him?”

“Did you know that he would be allowed to fly out of Guatemala with the drugs?”

“No,” he lied. “But I am sure someone had a good reason for that.”

“What happened in the square?”

“We watched from the edge of the jungle while Garcia killed a young girl, a group of Zetas showed up to take the rest of the girls, and then a large group of park workers surrounded the square.”

The men looked at each other again. “Park workers?” the general asked.

“Yes. Mostly armed with shovels and rakes. But some had various weapons.”

“What were the Zetas doing there? This is Guatemala not Mexico?”

“They were the ones that gave Mason the drugs. It appears that he had promised them the girls in return?”

The suit raised his eyebrows. “He had promised them the girls? The international girls at the school?”

“When did the soldiers drop their weapons and refuse to take orders from their superior?” the general asked.

“When Garcia threatened to kill Alvarez.” He didn’t tell them about the speech

“Did any tourists see this happening?”

Sanchez suddenly remembered where he had seen the man in the suit. He was from the department of tourism. They didn’t care about Garcia, the girls, Alvarez or anyone else, only that what happened is never reported. The effects on tourism would be devastating. Mexican tourism had dropped precipitously after reported gun violence between gangs. “No. The soldiers had escorted all of the tourists out of the area before Garcia and Mason arrived. They were told there was a dangerous Jaguar on the lose.”

The suit looked at the General. “Do we have Jaguars in Guatemala?”

“Si. Go on. So no tourists saw what followed?”

Sanchez had an idea. “Well one did. She came walking into the middle of the plaza just as things were getting tense. She thought it was a movie scene. In the distraction Alvarez disarmed his guard and Agent Gonzales, and I got the drop on the Zetas. In fact she is one of the people that were left behind when we brought Garcia here.”

“Did she have a camera?”

“Yes. A big one.”

“Did she take pictures?”

“Constantly. She thought they were all movie stars.”

“I see,” the suit offered as he handed the General a note. The General got up and left the room.”

Sanchez smiled and glanced at his watch. It was 6 pm. Plenty of time for someone to get the group at the cave before dark.

“That will be all for now Agent Gonzales. I’ll have some refreshments brought to your cell. We can talk more later.”

“Can I have my phone?”

“Not yet, Agent. We still have many questions about Commandant Garcia’s death.”

Sanchez noticed that he didn’t say suicide.

It was midnight before soldiers came to get him again and take him to the same interview room. This time he was relieved to see there were two other men in addition to the general and the suit.

“How are you Sanchez,” a tall, grey haired man dressed in casual clothing put out his hand.

“I am fine sir,” Sanchez took his bosses hand. “A little tired after today. And a little anxious to know everything went as planned.”

“All is well,” the man offered as he handed Sanchez his badge, gun and phone. “I am sorry that you were so roughly interrogated before, but the General didn’t realize the importance of your work. You will be glad to know that Mason connected the drive to the network and many perverts will be arrested. He has diverted his plane to Cuba with the drugs, but our agents there will take care of him in the right way.”

“What about Alvarez? The tourist? And the two other children?”

“We went to the place you said the car was parked and it wasn’t there,” the General announced. “It is imperative that we get those photos.” There was no mention of the people.

“Something isn’t right Sir,” Sanchez offered his boss, ignoring the general and the suit. “They wouldn’t have left the hiding place near the car unless they had to.”

“Where would they have gone?”

Sanchez took the phone he had been given phone from his pocket. “The tourist had a phone. Let me try and call.”

“How would you have her number Agent,” the suit asked.

“No answer. She appears to be out of cell service. But I have messages from someone else.” Sanchez listened to his phone. Then punched a number and listened again. “Shit. Something has chased them into the jungle. I know where they are.”

“How do you know,” the suit asked again.

Sanchez ignored him. “I know a chopper can’t fly until dawn, but until then I would like a jeep and small squad of soldiers —the corporal that brought us here and three others. Angelica and I will try and drive to their location and meet you at this spot at dawn with the chopper. It will take us almost that long to get there.” He went over to a 3 metre square topographic map of the region framed on the wall.” Right here.” He pointed to a spot were a small river met a dotted line. “You should be able to land a chopper in the clearing at the river edge.”

“How do you know that,” the suit persisted.

“I am a secret agent remember?” Sanchez quipped as he ran from the room to find Angelica and the corporal.

 

FIFTY-EIGHT

 

May 13,2016

Kindling friendship…

 

 

Adrian pushed the dial lighting button on is Timex Ironman to show 5:52 AM. He slipped out of the silk cocoon and pulled aside the netting.

“Where are you going,” Alvarez whispered. “It is still dark outside.”

Adrian glanced at Alvarez lying on the rope bed with no cover or net. He had put on the spare sweatshirt that Sanchez had brought, and even lying on the bed he could see that the shirt was far too large for Alvarez. Sanchez was probably 6 feet tall and Alvarez perhaps 5 feet 6, but for some reason while the shirt sunk well below his waste, the arms seemed the right length.

“Need a pee Elesio. Be back in a moment. Go back to sleep if you want.”

“Nah. I’m awake now,” he offered as he rolled to a sitting position. “What time is it anyhow?”

“Sixish. The sun will be up soon.”

“A little later in this deep valley I would guess.”

“Any sound from the ladies hut?”

“Not that I have heard,” Adrian offered as he left the hut and walked down to the beach. The top of the western ridge was just starting to glow as he walked the beach towards the river exit point. Since he had some time before the others woke he thought he might scout the first waterfall. Since the exit ravine was heading east, a ray of early morning red was hitting the rushing water and giving him enough light to assess the situation. He walked a few metres into the thick jungle, relieved himself and then pushed his way around the river exit point to get a better view of the river. They had all heard the sound of the rushing water in the dark the night before, but it was too late to check it out. The scene took his breath away. It was not like the twenty, three metre falls that they had run the day before. The drop on the first waterfall was closer to twenty metres and almost straight down. Right away Adrian realized that they had two problems. The most obvious was the size of the drop. They might have managed that except for the second problem. The natural rock dam at the end of the lake allowed a chute of water less than a metre wide over the edge of the fall. There was no way with that size of drop and that width of passage that they could shoot this waterfall. He peered into the retreating riverbed to see if he could make out what followed this drop, but it was too dark. He then started to scout the jungle around the fall. Maybe they could pull the kayaks through the jungle and pick up the river lower down. After pushing aside vines and massive ferns for ten metres he realized that without cutting devices of some sort it would be almost impossible. Years ago there was probably a portage path around the falls, but it would be overgrown now. He stared at the river for a few moments and returned to the camp area.

“Morning constitutional?” Laura asked as she approached him and gave him a hug. “I don’t think I have really thanked you for coming to get me Adrian. If it had not been for you and your friends, Grandpa would be dead and I would be on a plane somewhere.”

The hug surprised and embarrassed him. “Nothing any red blooded Indian wouldn’t do for a damsel in distress.”

“Thank you Adrian. But you should be more politically correct, “ Laura chided as she gave him a peck on the check. “Now let’s get home and tell our hockey team a story they will not believe.”

Melanie and Elesio had been tending a small fire where a pot of water was starting to bubble. “Time for a cup of coffee before we hit the river again?” Melanie asked. “There was a little bit of coffee left in the pack. Everyone sleep well?”

“There may be a change of plans,” Adrian announced. “I don’t think that we can go down the river. I have scouted out the falls and it is too tall and too narrow for us to shoot in the kayaks. And the jungle is too thick to portage around without cutlasses or something. None of the maps show the river details so we don’t know what we will find when we join the river again. It might turn out to be impassable and then we would really be in difficulty.”

“What are you suggesting Adrian?” Alvarez asked as he reached for a mug of coffee that Melanie offered him. He was still wearing the sweatshirt that amplified his short legs and long arms.

“I remember seeing a dotted line on the map that would lead to someplace up there.” He pointed to the southern ridge behind the camp spot. “If we find it and it is a real trail then we would only be 7 kilometres from the Belize highway and from that point only 10 to the Belize border. Why don’t I go up and scout the area? See if I can find the trail? If I can, I’ll come back and get everyone and we can go that way. If I can’t then it will have to be the river.”

Melanie craned her neck up the ridge. “ How are you going to get up there?”

“There had to have been a way that the robbers got all of this stuff in here,” Alvarez suggested. “The boy has it right. There must be an old trail somewhere that leads to the top. Let’s spread out and look.”

By this time the sun had lit the complete western shoreline and the ridge behind it. “Laura and I will start at one end of the shoreline, Elesio you and Melanie go to the other. We can meet in the middle.

They had almost met when Melanie found the trail and Melanie called them together. “It is overgrown, but it is clearly a trail,” she announced as she pointed to the vague outline of a passage leading into the hillside vegetation.

“I’ll scout it out,” Adrian announced.

“Me too,” Laura added. “That’s a steep hill and I can climb as well as you.”

Melanie and Alvarez looked at each other. “Go for it you two. Find the trail and come back. If you aren’t back in two hours we will come looking for you?”

“Deal,” Adrian agreed, as he pulled two, sturdy three metre sticks from the edge of the vegetation. They were straight and cleanly cut at both ends.

“Tabebuia Rosa wood,” Alvarez offered as he examined the poles. “Like your Oak. Probably cut years ago for some kind of structure. Hard. Never rots.”

Adrian handed one to Laura. “Walking poles will help. Let’s go.”

With Laura leading they disappeared into the vegetation.

“Was that a good idea Elesio? Letting them go on their own? They are kids?”

“I don’t know about you but I am too old to go traipsing through the jungle. I think that they have proven themselves over the past month Melanie. You should see her fight.”

“I’ve heard. And you should see him tackle bad guys. I saw a video of him when Laura was kidnapped.”

“Then I guess we have to rely on them don’t we?”

“It is chilly,” she shivered. “Let’s go back to the fire and wait. There is still some coffee left.”

“Will some Canadians come looking for you?” he asked as he sipped the hot coffee.

“Eventually I think. But only if that doesn’t jeopardize the operation of cracking the deep web porn ring. It was made pretty clear to me that I would be on my own until then. They used Laura to convince me to help them, but they don’t really care about her—or me for that matter. What about you? No friends to help out? Does everyone in Guatemala hate you?”

“No,” he laughed. “I think I still have a friend or two. Although when you are rich it is hard to separate the clingers from the real friends.” He paused. “I thought that the Board members for the school were friends and that hasn’t turned out so well.”

“What about back in Houston? You were a big wig oil guy, sponsoring golf tournaments?”

“Look at me Melanie. I know that they called me behind my back. A mullato monkey. Every time I went to the Country Club I could hear the embarrassed chatter about why I was allowed to join.”

“I think you are a good man Elesio. How did you deal with all of that?”

“Beat the men on the golf course. Charmed the women in the clubhouse. They were often surprised at my literacy. What about you? I know that you had to put up with some tough things on the Tour?”

“The players were fine Elesio. The biggest problem was all the other women golfers in the world who didn’t like me rising above my station —so to speak. I got more hate mail —email, twitters and so on— from women than from men. And as you know my swing isn’t exactly what they teach pretty little co-eds at Yale.”

“It’s Tweets, Melanie. Not twitters,” he laughed. “How long have you known about your special spatial relationship skills?”

She glanced up from her coffee surprised. “How do you know about that?”

“I recognized it the first time I saw you play. I didn’t win most of my fights as a Kaibile because I was svelte and handsome. But I only researched it recently, and low and behold I find out that your caddie is a Harvard prof —and the leading researcher in the world on spatial relationships.”

Melanie raised her voice. “Do you also know that Laura has highly developed spatial relationship skills?”

“I didn’t until I saw her fight some men off back near the school. Did she get it from her grandfather?”

“Yes. I think so.”

“What are you going to do when you get home?”

“Go back to Bumstead, Saskatchewan and sit in my rocking chair overlooking my golf course and the North Saskatchewan River.”

“Would you consider carrying on with building my golf course in Belize? I think your—Burt’s— Solomon’s Seal design is brilliant. We can build it together Melanie. And build another school?”

Melanie gently stirred the last of the sugar into the bitter chicory infused coffee. She had only loved one man in her life and held his hand as he died. Many powerful men had made an attempt to catch her attention, but a forty-year memory always dissolved her own interest. Now, she couldn’t reply because a gangly, old man had touched something that needed to be carefully assessed.

“Maybe Elesio,” she offered. “Maybe.”

 

FIFTY-NINE

 

May 13,2016

The Mayan trail…

 

 

“Do you think they will be alright on their own?” Adrian asked as they worked their way up the steep slope. “They are both pretty old you know.”

“Ha,” Laura laughed. “I don’t know about Melanie, but I think my Grandpa can take care of himself pretty well. Though maybe not on a river.”

“He lied about not swimming you know.”

“What do you mean?”

“He was a Kaibile. They go through rigorous training that involves things like underwater demolition and hand to hand combat. Temv-K’a they call it.”

“I know about the combat thing. I saw him fight off those drug gang guys near the school.”

“Do you know that as part of their training they have to kill their pet dog and eat it?”

“Yuck. Don’t believe you. You read too much. Or at least sometimes remember too much. Besides he was one of those soldiers a long time ago.”

“Maybe. While he might be afraid of the water, I don’t think he has forgotten how to swim Laura. I like him, but I am not sure he is totally honest with any of us.”

“But they sort of make a nice couple don’t you think?”

“Laura! They are old!”

“Just because they are not teenagers anymore doesn’t mean they can’t fall in love you know.”

He stopped pushing the vines aside. “What’s this all about Laura? He is the man that kidnapped you and you hardly know her. And now you are matchmaking.”

“She is my Grandma—my step Grandma,” she replied defensively. “And she is wonderful. And he had nothing do do with the kidnapping or drugs or porn or anything but helping young girls get an education. And besides what do you know about love?”

He was about to turn and argue when he caught sight of a rock that was too regularly shaped to be a random stone. “Look over here,” he ordered as he scrapped the moss off the rock. This was man made.” He scraped the vegetation off the square stone and found it was attached to enough similar shaped bricks to make a two metre tall wall that seemed to stretch into the hillside. “Look at this,” he announced. “Maybe we have found another temple or something.”

Laura pocked her walking pole into the space behind the wall. “There seems to be some sort of hole. You go look,” she ordered.

“Yeah sure, Kemo Sabe,” he laughed as he crawled behind the wall and disappeared. “Sacrifice the Indian.”

“Shut up,” she chided as she watched his backside disappear into the brush. “Kemo what?” Laura heard nothing but the sound of moving bushes for three minutes, and then nothing. “Hey,” she yelled. “You still there?”

He emerged from the underbrush shaking leaves and twigs from his hair and t-shirt. “You’d better follow me. On your hands and knees.”

After crawling for 10 metres, they found themselves at the bottom of broad —4 metre wide—stairs leading at a gentle slope into the darkness of the hillside. The light that seeped through the vegetation behind them provided enough light to see the first three steps.

“Clearly the Mayans used this site for camping or something too,” Laura suggested “This must be the way in to the valley here from the top of the ridge.”

“It has been used since then,” Adrian offered. “The moss growth on the top of the stairs is much less than the growth around the edges of the stairs. I would guess that this is how someone got all of that building material down to the campsite. This must come out somewhere near that trail I saw on the old maps at the top of the ridge.”

“Do we scout it out now or go get the others? This could be our way out?”

“I think we should scout it out But it is too dark in here to walk very far.”

“You could try turning on your headlamp?”

Adrian laughed as he reached up and touched the LED light that was still attached to the strap around his forehead. “Forgot,” he sheepishly announced as he switched on the lamp.

“So much for your eidetic memory eh?”

“Just a minor bug in my superpowers. Look.”

Adrian scanned the stairs with his head showing the length of the stairs leading gently upwards into the ridge. “When we entered the stairs we were about 60 metres vertical from the top of the ridge. These stairs are angled about 50 degrees. This suggests that the stairs will be about 100 metres long and assuming level ground at the top, exit about 50 metres from the edge of the ridge.”

Laura gave him skeptical look. “Sure Sherlock.” They had watched the Sherlock series together on Netflix.

“Simple Pythagorean, my dear Watson,” he poked the stair with his pole. “Shall we go?”

Adrian led as they walked the staircase. “Do you know know long it would take someone today to make 100 metres of brick formed stairs? Amazing.”

“Not to mention digging the tunnel in the first place,” Laura added as she brushed cobwebs away with her pole.

Adrian’s lamp glinted from something at the edge of a stair. He reached over and picked it up. “These stairs have been used recently. The Mayans were advanced, but I don’t think they had these.” He held up and examined an empty cigarette pack with the foil sticking out the end. “Look at the date. This pack is from the nineties.”

“Remember. Grandpa told us that there used to be gangs that stop tourists’ buses from Belize and rob them. The military has mostly stopped that apparently, but maybe the gangs used this place as a hideout? You said it is only 7 kilometres from the highway?”

“Makes sense,” Adrian offered as he shoved the pack in his back pocket and continued up the stairs.

As they progressed closer to the opening, they found other signs of usage that confirmed Laura’s conclusion. There was an empty plastic water bottle, and more cigarette boxes. There was even an empty wallet with the ID of Susan Dingle from Boise, Idaho, with her driver’s license expired June 22, 1998. After fifteen minutes of careful walking and poking with their poles they saw a beam of light emerging from the jungle at the end of the staircase.

“Maybe we should be quiet,” Laura suggested. “We don’t know what is at the other end. Maybe the gangs still have a camp or a home there or something?”

“Good idea,” Adrian agreed as he led them on tiptoes to the exit at the end of the stairs.

The exit faced away from the ravine edge so he could not assess if his rough calculations had been correct. But the area around the exit was flat and open. “Like a small Saskatchewan deer grazed meadow,” he whispered to Laura.

“Do you see anyone?”

“No. But this is a man made clearing of some sort. Maybe a camping area?”

“Do you see the trail or path?”

“No. I can’t see much thought these leaves and branches and stuff. We’ll have to go out and explore.”

He was about to exit the stairs when Laura grabbed his arm. “Listen,” she ordered.

He listened intently. “Lots of birds, “ he whispered. “Maybe a gecko or two?”

“Listen,” she ordered again.

The first thing he heard was the silence as the birds and other creatures around the clearing suddenly went silent. Then he heard the sound as it got closer. “Shit. Trail bikes.”

“ I guess there is a trail. And someone else knows it.”

Within two minutes the four trail bikes spun to a stop in the middle of the clearing 10 metres from the entrance to the stairs. All four men got off the bikes, removed their helmets and hung them on the handlebars.

“Is this the place?” the man they recognized as Morales yelled.

“Yeah,” one of the men answered. “This is the only place that any road or trail meets the river. There is a camping spot down that hill by the river. They must be there.”

“Tell me again how you know this Gordo?”

“My uncle was a bandito along the road in the 90s. He often told me about this place where they would hide after stopping and robbing a tourist bus. The police never found it.”

“But you have never been here?” Morales asked as he took a holster and revolver from the case on the bike and strapped it around his waist.

“No Senor. Only stories I heard as a child.”

“If they are not there I will have to kill you Gordo. It has taken us all night to work our way around the military checkpoints to get here. Someone has to die. You had better hope that it is Alvarez eh?”

“They have to be there. No other way out than up the ridge to here. And we didn’t meet them on the trail.”

“And it is still almost dark,” one of the other soldiers offered. “The sun is only just rising now. If we get down there quickly we can surprise them. That old Kaibile still has a gun.”

“I don’t suppose your 6 year old brain remembered if your uncle told you how to get down there?” Morales walked over and peered over the edge of the ravine. “Looks pretty steep.”

“No. He didn’t.” He walked over to the edge and looked “But it is only about 50 metres of steep slope.” He pulled a coiled rope from the box on his bike. “We can be down in only few moments. Let’s go.”

Laura and Adrian watched as the soldier tied the rope to the trunk of a Ceiba tree and rappelled down the slope. The other four followed. “Are you sure your fat uncle did this?” Morales whined as he disappeared over the edge of the ravine.

“They will ambush Melanie and Elesio,” Laura cried. “We have to warn them.”

“We wouldn’t get there in time Laura, even if we used their rope. And they each have holstered pistols.”

“Maybe we could take their bikes and get help?”

Adrian thought for a moment. He could save Laura. “You take one of the bikes. Go get help. I’ll try and help Melanie and Elesio.”

“I don’t know how to ride a motorcycle.” She touched his arm. “And you don’t seriously think I would leave you alone?”

“Then what do we do?”

“Work our way back down the tunnel. They clearly don’t know about it. They won’t know where we are so maybe they will not hurt anyone right away. Remember he is supposed to deliver me to that Mason guy. Maybe we can use that to do something? Surprise them maybe?”

“Maybe. Be careful going down the stairs,” Adrian offered as he turned his lamp back on and started down. “Use your pole for balance.”

The sound of a gunshot from the camping area shocked them into ignoring his caution.

 

SIXTY

 

May 13, 2016

Canadian diplomacy…

 

 

It had taken Alvarez and his team most of the night to reach the trail entrance from the Kaibile headquarters in Petén. The officials from Guatemala City kept delaying him with questions, and then he found out that none of the army checkpoints had been informed of his route. At one checkpoint after the Belize highway turn off the corporal had to pull his revolver and threaten to shoot the sentry if he didn’t let them through. “There is something that man isn’t telling us,” the Corporal offered as they drove away. “He was more scared of someone else than of my gun to his head.”

“I noticed that as well,” Angelica offered from the back seat. “Who else could scare him?”

“Banditos or Zetas would be my guess, though as far as the military knows, the Banditos haven’t been active in this area for a long time. Their grandmothers told them to stop scaring the tourists away,” he chuckled. “And the Zetas have never come this far south from the Mexican border. Too dangerous for them.”

“Well someone scared the crap out of him. How far now to the trail Dad? The sun is almost up?”

He had not been there for over forty years and he assumed that if no one had used the trail since that time it would be too overgrown to either find or to take. He remembered that the trail started as a dirt road to a small farm a kilometer off the highway and then the trail left from behind an outbuilding. “If we can see it in the dawn light the road should be not far ahead.”

All four occupants of the truck peered through the dawn light at the road ahead. It was too early in the morning for local traffic so Alvarez was surprised to see headlights approaching from the other direction. “This guy is moving fast,” he offered.

“Tourista from Belize trying to get to a sunrise at Tikal?” the Corporals suggested.

“It is too late. No matter how fast they go, the sun has already come up. They are too far away to tell what they are. Be ready.” Alvarez patted the stock of his own Glock.

Five hundred metres from them, a Toyota Highlander suddenly slowed and made a sharp right turn into a road that they couldn’t yet see.

“That’s it,” Alvarez yelled. “That’s the road. They turned down the road we were looking for. Go. Go.”

“That can’t be a coincidence Dad.”

“No. Whoever they are they have the same target we have. This can’t be good. Catch up to them Corporal.”

They all grabbed the door handles as the Landrover made a sharp left turn onto a rutted gravel road. At 80 kilometres an hour they were soon at a now abandoned farm at the edge of the encroaching jungle. The Toyota had arrived seconds before and the two occupants were stepping out of the truck when the Rover swerved to a stop. Alvarez and Angelica were out of the truck and aiming their Glocks at the Highlander before the Rover came to a stop. The two soldiers followed, armed with two carbines.

“Halt,” Alvarez yelled. “Hands on you head.”

The man and the woman immediately complied. Both turned and faced Alvarez. “Don’t shoot!” The man spoke fluent Spanish though Alvarez could immediately tell he was North American.

“Identify yourself,” Angelica demanded as she approached the couple. “Why are you here?”

“No. Why are you here?” the woman demanded. “You are not military. And we are just Canadian tourists.”

Angelica and Alvarez looked at each other. “Are you Mary by any chance?”

Alvarez could see the look of relief on their faces.

“And you wouldn’t be Sanchez Gonzales by any chance? And you his daughter Angelica?”

“Glad to meet you in person,” Alvarez offered as he lowered his Glock. “You must have some way of knowing where they are?”

GPS on Melinda’s iPhone. It works even without cell service. They are still on the edge of the river. In the camp.”

“How do you know about the camp?”

“Adrian’s grandmother told me to say Midewiwin so you would know exactly where to go.”

He smiled and stared at Mary as if remembering something. “I guessed right. Let’s find the trail.” He led the group behind the outbuilding. The trail was obvious. There was a 2-metre opening in the jungle face that led to the slightly smaller trail behind it.

“This isn’t wide enough for a truck,” the Corporal concluded. “The tires would fit, but not the body.”

“Wide enough for a dirt bike though,” Richard pointed to the tracks in the narrow trail. “These are fresh tracks. Someone passed through here maybe only ten minutes or so ago.”

“We have to get there fast,” Alvarez yelled. “The chopper will be another half hour. We can run to the river in 10 minutes.”

“I can’t run six kilometers anymore,” Mary announced. “Besides. Ten minutes might be too late and none of us would be in any condition to do anything when we got there.”

“We’ll take the Highlander,” Richard ordered as he ran for the truck.

“You will wreck the car. It is too narrow.”

Richard shrugged as he jumped into the driver’s seat. “It is a rental.”

 

SIXTY-ONE

 

May 13, 2016

The party begins…

 

 

The entrance to the tunnel was thirty metres of thick vegetation from the first gazebo and another ten from the open space around the fire and cooking area. They had moved as fast as they could down the tunnel steps, but even aided with their poles for stability it had taken them 10 minutes to maneuver over the moss and slime covered stairs.

“Do you see anything?” Laura whispered through heavy breathing as they peered over the edge of the stonewall guarding the tunnel entrance.

“Yeah. They are all there. Four men and Alvarez and Melinda. I can’t hear anything or see clearly through the jungle. We can make our way over to the closest gazebo and hide behind it and watch from there. They won’t see us through the rusted screening.”

“We will have to help them Adrian. That man wants to kill Grandpa. He told me they are enemies from many years ago.”

“They have guns Laura. But let’s get closer without being seen and then think about what to do.”

Laura nodded. “I’ll go first. You’re not exactly a ballet dancer. When I get there safely you follow.’

He had no chance to argue as Laura slipped around the edge of the wall. He watched as she maneuvered her position to try and keep some vegetation between her and the open area around the camp. He couldn’t see for sure, but he also thought that the four men were also facing the lake, with their backs to the huts and the ridge. When she reached the back of the hut she waived at Adrian. He followed the same route and in a minute was beside her, hiding behind the hut. “Now what?”

“Listen,” she whispered.

 

SIXTY-TWO

 

May 13, 2016

He who ignores history…

 

 

The four men had taken them completely by surprise.

Their conversation had moved on from grandchildren to U.S. politics to Oil and they were debating the ethics of side saddle putting when they were interrupted by the shot from the 9MM. They both jumped up from the log facing the fire and the lake.

“Hands where we can see them monkey,” Morales ordered, moving his Glock from pointing his Glock in the air to pointing at Alvarez’s chest. “Search them Javier.”

One of the soldiers holstered his own gun and patted down Alvarez. “Nothing,” he announced.

“Her,” Morales ordered, still pointing his gun.

“Lo siento, Senorita,” Javier offered as he patted Melinda’s waist and legs.”

“De nada. What is a polite Mexican doing here?”

The man gave her a puzzled look of recognition. “Nothing Morales. No guns.”

“That makes it easy doesn’t it Alvarez?” Morales suggested as he holstered his own gun. The other two men standing behind him did the same.

“What do you want Morales? I am nothing anymore. I am a ‘has been’ who is being chased out of his country. And this lady is just an innocent tourist. She isn’t anything to you or your men.”

Javier stayed positioned beside Melinda as Morales approached Alvarez. “I’ll get to you in a moment monkey. Where is the girl?”

“Why?”

“I have been paid to deliver her. And I am an honorable man. When I am paid, I deliver.”

“Paid enough to risk bringing your Mexican men this far from the border? You and your men will never get out of here no matter what you do to us. The only way out of here is the trail I presume you found, and then the highway. There are military checkpoints everywhere.”

Melinda noticed the two men at the edge of the camp glance at each other.

“I guess that I am squeezed between suppliers and buyers right now. Need to make them both happy. Where is she?”

“We don’t know Senor,” Melinda interrupted. She went off with that boy before dawn and we have not seen them since. They probably went down the river.”

“Swimming?” Morales asked, pointing at the two kayaks on the beach. “Check the buildings,” he ordered Gordo. “And then search the end of the beach near where the water leaves the lake. They have to be here somewhere.”

“How does an old lady tourist end up here with this creature?” he asked as he moved closer.

Melinda had left the hat and sunglasses from the plaza behind on the river. She had left the shirt in the cabin and was dressed in a white t-shirt and the quick dry skirt.

“I wouldn’t get too close Morales,” Javier suddenly announced. “This is the lady from the plaza. The one that hit you.”

Morales approached closer. “Yes. It’s her. If she tries that again kill her Javier. Who are you lady? That wasn’t a fair fight at the plaza. You surprised me. Would you like to try it again?”

Melinda stood still.

“She is just a tourist who got caught up in the event. What honour is there in fighting an old woman? Besides, it is really me you came here after isn’t it? You don’t care about the girl or Mason or doing your job. You figure this is your last chance to get me isn’t it? After 30 years you still cannot accept that I am better man than you. At everything the Kaibiles expected … I was better.”

“I was meant to be a Kaibiles from birth. You destroyed that.”

“You mean you thought your birthright gave you a right to be a bully and a racist. That wasn’t what being a Kaibile was about. It was there to protect and serve, not enslave and kill.”

“We —you and I—killed many terrorists.”

“Many Indians you mean. It was wrong Morales and that is why I left for another life.”

“You betrayed our motto. “If I retreat, kill me.”

“That’s not the whole motto. But you betrayed the heart of the Kaibiles when you murdered woman and children. The massacre at Dos Eres wasn’t what being a Kaibile was about.”

“It was an honour to be chosen by Efrain Rios to be part of that special squad of twenty instructors. We were the best. The purest. They would never have chosen a monkey like you to be part of that group.”

“You killed 200 innocent villagers Morales. You raped and slaughtered 70 women and children. You dumped their bodies down a well. All in the search for twenty old rifles.”

“I followed orders.”

“Some have reported that you changed the orders from search the village to destroy it. You did the first rape that started the massacre. They have caught most of the twenty now Morales. Jordan has been helping the government. They caught Sosa in Canada. A five year old that watched you rape and murder his mother recognized him. There are only 6 or 7 of you left now, hiding as gang members in Mexico where they use your killing skills to their own purpose. But you will be found.”

“Was Dos Eres the reason you left the Kaibiles and moved to the US?”

“My mother lived in that village Morales. It was first reported that it was the revolutionaries—the terrorists — that did the slaughter. When I learned otherwise I had to leave the country.”

“I never knew that.”

“And you had to leave the Kaibiles when you killed Carlos.”

“It was a fair fight.”

“We fought other Kaibiles in our training but never killed them. You killed a comrade for sport.”

“And I would have killed you if given the opportunity.”

“I taught you. Remember? And always beat you.”

Gordo and the other Mexican returned to the camp area. “Nothing anywhere that we could find. They must have gone down the river somehow. They wouldn’t have been able to climb up that ridge to get out of here.”

“It doesn’t matter now,” Morales announced as he removed the web belt and holster and dropped it to the ground beside him. “Stand guard. When I am done with monkey here, shoot the woman and throw both bodies into the river. Then we can get out of here. We will tell Mason the girl drowned in the river. And we can pick up the other girls one by one from the villages.”

“I am an old man Morales,” Alvarez offered as he moved away from Melinda. “You are ten years younger than me. I have arthritis in my knees, bad eyesight and high cholesterol. Are you really going to fight me?”

“Not fight you monkey. Kill you,” Morales held his hands in the air. “With Temv-K’a. Hands of steel. Even Mario the grandmaster said I was the best he had ever seen.”

“After I had left maybe. He and I started together and fought each other—in friendship and respect—before he taught Temv-K’a to the Kaibiles.”

Alvarez and Morales started to circle each other in the classic Temv-K’a pose. Melanie recognized it as a close variation of Wing Chun that Burt had been trained in, rather than her Korean based style. They had often spared —and never resolved—to try and see which was the best. Now she watched Alvarez and Morales as they assessed each other. Morales was ten years younger and hardened by a life in the jungle and the Zetas after leaving the Kaibiles. And he wouldn’t have been as successful a fighter unless he had some spatial relationship attributes. No martial arts practitioner survives long without some form of unique reflexes. The focus of Temv-K’a is on the coordinated attack of fast hands and feet, with the aim of putting the opponent in a position where a hand weapon—or just the hands—can kill. With Morale’s first attack she saw right away that Alvarez couldn’t last long. He was fast. And his longer arms and lower centre of gravity helped with defense and balance. He had been skillful at one time, but decades behind a business desk had sapped instinct and strength. He fended off the first two attacks but she realized he would not last long against the younger and stronger Morales. She flinched as a leg swipe sent Alvarez tumbling backwards on the sand. Morales grinned and prepared to spin on his left foot, gathering the momentum needed to push a heel through the prone man’s nose.

“Grandpa!” The voice came from behind the two Mexican soldiers watching the fight from the edge of the cleared area. “Catch this!”

 

SIXTY-THREE

 

May 13,2016

A stinky business…

 

 

“The shitter,” Adrian wiped his nose as they hid behind the half collapsed outhouse beside the hut. “I can’t believe you dragged me behind a shitter to hide. Even old shit smells. Yuck.”

“Don’t be a baby,” she whispered as she grabbed the pole she had dropped on the ground. “It was the only place those guys might avoid. It worked.”

“Where are they now?”

“Back at the campfire area. We need to see what is going on.”

They slowly crawled using their poles for balance until they were less than 10 metres from the backs of the soldiers who were watching something near the campfire.

“It is Grandpa and Morales! They are fighting. Grandpa is on the ground. I’ve got to help.” She picked up her pole and ran to the soldiers at the edge of the circle. They were focusing on the fight and didn’t see her in time to react. “Grandpa! Catch this!” she yelled as she javelined the pole to Alvarez lying on the ground. She watched in her peripheral vision as the soldier guarding Melanie reached for his gun and saw Melanie moving towards him.

The second after she threw the pole she bounced off the back of one of the two surprised guards watching the fight. The startled man reached around and grabbed her arm. He was strong and large. She tried to twist free but she heard him curse and he twisted the arm in such the opposite direction she had to roll forward or her arm would have been broken. The roll broke his hold and gave her time to get to her feet as the man tried to grab her again. She could see a lot of movement in her peripheral vision but was too occupied with this man to know what was happening to anyone else. Her right foot went for his left knee but only partially knocked him off balance.

“Shit,” he screeched as he lurched to his right. “I remember you. You’re the girl from the school. Not this time little girl.” He launched a roundhouse punch aimed at her head.

She easily ducked the punch and moved inside and hit his chest with a flurry of Wing Chun punches like she had been taught, but she felt like she was hitting a concrete wall. The punches would have knocked the wind out of an ordinary sized human. All these did to him was stagger him back a few feet. He grinned and reached for his holstered gun.

“ Enough,” he hissed as he pulled the gun from the holster and aimed all in one motion.

The blast of the gun temporarily blinded all of her senses as she waited for the bullet to strike some part of her body.

 

SIXTY-FOUR

 

May 13, 2016

The Flin Flon slash…

 

 

When she saw Laura and Adrian pounce into the clearing, Melanie lunged at Javier and aimed a chop at his throat. She guessed he was over six feet and perhaps 250 pounds. She would not win a slugfest with him. She would have to stop him with one, unexpected blow. He was distracted by the Alvarez-Morales fight and had momentarily turned his attention to Laura as she threw the pole to a prone Alvarez, but she was too slow. By the time her hand reached him his attention was back to her. He grabbed her hand and drew his gun at the same time.

“Stop,” he ordered as he aimed the Glock at her forehead. “I don’t want to kill you.”

Melanie froze. They both watched as Alvarez caught the pole. Morale’s first spin kick was interrupted by Laura’s yell and he now balanced for a second one. As his left leg spun towards Alvarez’s head, Alvarez twirled the pole above his head and the pole met Morale’s tibia with a thud and a crack. Melanie watched as Morale’s tibia and the pole broke at the same time. Alvarez jumped to his feet as Morales fell to the ground. A gunshot turned their attention back to Laura and Adrian.

One of the other Mexicans was lying on the ground with a blood oozing from a wound on the back of his head. The one facing Laura had just discharged his gun and was tumbling backwards, the gun spinning out of his hand onto the sand beside the campfire 3 metres away. From what Melanie could make out, while Laura had thrown the pole to Alvarez, Adrian had knocked out the other guard from behind. When the man confronting Laura had drawn his gun, Adrian had slashed him across the Achilles tendons with the pole. He wasn’t in time to stop the shot, but it stopped him hitting Laura.

Alvarez was moving towards Morale’s holster, and Laura to the gun beside the campfire. Adrian raised his pole to immobilize the man that had confronted Laura.

“Stop!” Javier ordered as he held his gun to Melanie’s head. “Everyone stop. Now. Don’t move.”

“Shoot them,” Morales screeched though his pain. “Shoot them all.”

No one moved as Javier looked from Alvarez to Laura and Adrian. The first guard was coming to. The second sat up, grimacing and rubbing the back of his legs.

“Jorge. Gordo. Can you move?”

Gordo got to his feet. He put his hand to the back of his head and then looked at the blood. “Si. I can move.”

“Jorge?”

Jorge slowly got to his feet and walked the three metres to his Glock. “Nothing severed. Just sore.”

“Kill them all!” Morales screamed again. “I am ordering you.”

Suddenly Alvarez crumbled to the ground. Melanie noticed for the first time the bloodstain spreading over the front of his shirt. The bullet meant for Laura must have hit Alvarez. Laura ignored Javier and ran over to Alvarez. She sat down beside him and cradled his head on her lap.

Javier held his gun on Melanie as he walked over and knelt down beside Alvarez. He lifted up the shirt and looked at the wound. “You might live Senor— with help. I am sorry there is none here. Is it true? What you said about that village?”

“What do you mean?”

“Did this man participate in that slaughter?”

“Yes. One witness described how he dropped a living four year old boy down the village well.”

“They were all criminals,” Morales shouted. “Shoot them now!”

“It was a civil war,” Alvarez nodded weakly. “A thirty-year one that killed 200,000 Indigenous Guatemalans. But killing four year old boys and raping their ten year old sisters can’t be justified by any cause.”

Javier waived his gun at Jorge and Gordo. “Our families were all revolutionaries at one time. As young men we became paratroopers together to help fight the drugs that were killing our friends and families. All we found was corruption. Now we run drugs to save our families. You have to take sides or die in our part of Mexico.”

“I once worked for Jose,” Melanie offered in perfect Mexican Spanish, guessing that just the first name of her old Mexican cartel boss would catch his attention. “I saw the evil. I saw the corruption. And I know how men like you are caught in the middle. Go save your own families. Leave mine to me.”

Javier approached Morales still lying on the ground. “This isn’t our fight Morales. We have enough of our own vendettas without being part of yours.” He turned to Alvarez. “I am sorry for your wound Senor. We have watched this man do many evil things and never stopped him. Maybe even helped. No more. He is yours.” He handed Melanie his gun. “We will leave now. Jorge and Gordo?”

“Yes. We can go,” Gordo responded as he helped Jorge walk. “But how do we get out of here?”

“Back up the rope my friends. We’re paratroopers. We have climbed higher.”

They all watched as the three men cautiously stepped around Adrian and his pole and disappeared into the vegetation leading to the ridge.

“Give me the gun,” Alvarez asked in a hoarse voice.

Melanie shook her head. “You can’t kill him Elesio. He is no threat now. And I suspect the Guatemalan government will have some interest him now.”

“Is Grandpa going to die?” Laura cried.

Melanie said nothing.

“Nice work with the stick kid,” Alvarez whispered. “Where did you learn that trick with the back of the legs?”

“Bobby Clarke. Flin Flon guy with the Philadelphia Flyers. He took out Kharlomov with that slash in the 72 Canadian-Russia hockey series.”

They all laughed.

“A hockey maneuver in the jungles of Guatemala. How Canadian,” Alvarez chuckled as he closed his eyes.

“Grandpa! Grandpa! Please talk to me,” Laura cried. But Alvarez never heard her plea as a group of shouting armed men invaded the clearing.

 

SIXTY-FIVE

 

May 13, 2016

 

 

After crashing through 6 kilometers of trail encroaching vegetation, the Four Runner was finally stopped 100 metres from the edge of the ravine by two 15-centimeter diameter Ceiba trees guarding the trail.

“There are the bikes,” Angelica confirmed as they all jumped from the truck. “By the edge of the ravine. They must have gone down the ridge there.” She yelled as she started running towards the ridge.

“Stop Angelica,” Alvarez ordered. “Over here.” He jogged to the vegetation covering the entrance to the stairs. “Mary. Where are they?”

Mary glanced at her iPhone. “Over there.” she pointed over the edge of the ravine. “120 metres.”

“Get your flashlights,” Alvarez ordered the Corporal and the other soldier. “Follow me.”

There are two in the glove compartment,” Richard added. He ran to the passenger side of the truck and retrieved the flashlights. He tossed one to Mary as they followed the two soldiers and Alvarez into the vegetation. They were about to enter the stair tunnel when the sound of a gunshot drifted up from below the ridge. “Shit,” Sanchez yelled. “Let’s go.”

The two young soldiers vaulted their way down the 100 metres of moss-covered stairs. Angelica was right behind them. Sanchez and Richard followed by 10 seconds. It was a further 5 minutes before Mary caught up with them at the tunnel exit. Sanchez and the Corporal were peering through the vegetation at the campfire clearing 10 metres away. “What do you see,” Sanchez ordered.

The Corporal stared down the sight of his M15. “Four people on the ground. One man standing holding a stick in the air.”

“No guns?”

“Not that I can see?”

“Morales and the others?”

“Let me look,” Richard shoved them aside and peered through the thick vegetation with his pocket Bushnells. “Someone is shot. It is Alvarez. Go. Go,” he pushed Sanchez and the soldiers.

The two soldiers, Angelica and Sanchez approached the clearing with guns drawn and ready. Sanchez ran immediately to Alvarez. “Drop the gun. Now.”

Melanie gently pried the Glock from his hand and dropped it on the sand beside her. “He was shot. He needs help.”

“Put down the stick,” the Corporal aimed his carbine and yelled at Adrian.

“Gladly,” Adrian responded as he threw the pole away and put his hands over his head.

“Put your rifle down Corporal,” Angelica ordered. “He is a friend. Guard the man on the ground.

By the time Richard and Mary emerged from the jungle, Sanchez and Angelica were kneeling over Alvarez examining the wound. Angelica had her arms around Laura’s shoulders. Adrian was standing alone in the middle of the clearing, watching a man lying at his feet with a tibia bone protruding from his leg. The corporal was leaning over the man putting a zip tie over his hands.

“Nice timing guys,” Melanie offered. “You were much better in the old days in Mexico. Any chance you can use your Canadian government connections to get an ambulance here? Elesio has been shot. “

Richard glanced at Sanchez and got a quick negative shake.

“Where are the other Mexicans?” Angelica asked.

“Gone. They abandoned him,” Melanie explained. “They are well on their way back to Mexico by now. Let them go Sanchez. They ended up saving our lives. And I doubt they will be back to Guatemala anytime soon.”

As the Corporal leaned over Morales, he pulled the Corporal’s head down to his own. The crunch of the corporal’s nose as it met Morale’s forehead echoed over the clearing. The Corporal collapsed on top of him as Morales reached for the man’s holstered sidearm. He pulled the Glock free and in one movement rested the weapon on the back of the prone Corporal and aimed at Sanchez’s back as he leaned over Alvarez.

The deafening roar of a Sikorsky masked the sound of a gunshot as it swooped to a landing on the beach at the edge of the lake.

 

SIXTY-SIX

 

May 22, 2018

Solomon’s Seal blossoms…

 

 

“I hate giving speeches,” Melanie complained. “That is your department. Zip me up will you?”

“But you are the course designer,” he chided. “Everyone wants to hear from you, not me. The golfers gathered here have never heard of me. To most of them you are still a legend. You were the first woman to make the men’s PGA TOUR Champions —maybe the last as well! And now you are the the first to build a new concept of golf course.”

“It was mostly Burt’s design not mine you know. He was the one who first sketched out the concept of a 3 hole times 6 design. He even came up with the Solomon’s Seal name —the only six petaled flower in the western hemisphere. I think we have stayed fairly true to the plant don’t you think? A club house “ovule” surrounded by 6 three hole petals?”

“The design is true, but it remains to be seen if this design will cure golf’s participation ills—except for here, it is still too expensive, too time consuming and courses usually too difficult for most Millenials. The cruise ship crowd coming into the new port here might be interested in 6, 9 or maybe even 3 holes, but it remains to be seen if the casual golfer or tourist will try it. For example, despite our passion for the game, the kids have no interest in golf. It is all hockey, hockey hockey.”

She moved out onto the balcony of the new villa built on the hillside overlooking the golf course below and the Caribbean Sea in the far distance. The Villa was the first building they had built. It was a place for them to stay while they supervised the both the school and the golf course construction. It was also the place where they probed each other’s emotions. The first few months after leaving Guatemala had been difficult for Melanie. She was grateful they had brought Laura and Adrian back to Canada, and the deep web pornography operation had been hacked and disclosed. Week after week over the past two years, another person in some country was arrested for possession of child pornography without ever knowing that the dark sites had been compromised. It was a testament to what international crime co-operation could do. But she still had nightmares of the shot she made that killed Morales. A millisecond later and he would have shot either Sanchez or Alvarez —no one ever knew his target. It was only her special spatial relationship attributes that allowed her to anticipate his move and pick up the gun beside her. And it was the practice she had with Burt at the fisherman’s cottage up the coast from San Jose Del Cabo that allowed her to instinctively make the shot.

“You can teach me,” she remembered chiding Burt as he went to set up five tin cans 20 meters from the porch overlooking the beach. “But I would never shoot anyone.”

Now the slow motion image of Morale’s exploding forehead wouldn’t leave her. “PTSD,” Richard had told her. “Not uncommon in people who do what you do?”

“You make it sound like I “do” this,” she argued.

“Did? Do? Doesn’t matter. You will need some help to get over it. But remember you did save other lives. And If I remember, it isn’t the first time you have killed someone?”

“Mexico was supposed to be a lifetime away and never happen again.”

The counseling had helped, as did diving into the design and construction of the golf course. But it was the effect of finding someone else to care for that surprised her the most. She remembered holding his hand as he lay dying on the beach and being afraid to let go because then he would be gone. Even when the medic loaded him into the chopper she would not let go until they arrived at the hospital in Guatemala City and the doctor pried her fingers away. “It is alright now Senorita. We will take good care of your husband.”

“What are you thinking Melinda?”

She turned from the vista. “How it isn’t often at our age we get new chances.”

“You mean the golf course?”

She leaned slightly down and kissed his forehead. “Right my little monkey. The golf course.”

“I’ve killed people that call me that you know,” he admonished as he returned the kiss.

“I dare you to try,” she laughed.

“Speaking of millenials, have you heard from the kids?”

“Don’t call them kids Elesio. He is 18 and she is 17.”

“Do you think they have changed much?”

She laughed again. “How much do you think you changed between 16 and 18? If it wasn’t for the photos and Facebook we may not recognize them”

At the hospital Melinda learned that the others had returned to Canada. Laura’s mother had been all over CBC thanking the prime minister and his government for bringing Laura back home. There was never any mention of Adrian or people like Sanchez and Angelica. Richard and Mary had set her up in a guest suite at the Canadian Embassy so she could visit the hospital whenever she wanted. When Alvarez had been well enough to move they had arranged a private jet to fly him to Regina and then an ambulance to The Folly. She spent four months over that fall nurturing him back to health. The bullet had gone right through his body and missed all vital organs. But there had been extensive internal damage and bleeding. By winter they could supervise the course construction and by spring they were in Belize opening the course and the school.

“I am glad they are coming,” he offered. “I miss her.”

“She is your granddaughter Elesio.”

“Yours as well Melanie. At least she considers you her’s.”

“Her mother has said she can come and work at the Folly this summer. Both she and Adrian.”

“They still together?”

Melanie spends hours on Facebook keeping up with the two children.

“Yeah. I don’t know what they will do when he goes to Queen’s next year?”

“Still engineering?”

“Interested in something robotic or driverless vehicles I think. It appears that his eidetic talents are good for memorizing pages and whiteboards covered in formulas.”

“The scholarship should cover all his costs at least.”

“How did you do that? Canadian universities don’t have full scholarships do they?”

“Full bursaries. And they are quickly becoming like the U.S. ones —do anything for a million dollar donation.”

“And the house for Laura and her mom?”

“That was trickier. She wouldn’t take the money from me so I had to get a friend in Guatemala to tell her the money was from them for Laura’s pain and suffering.”

“I didn’t know you had many friends left in Guatemala.”

“The oil industry doesn’t really pay much attention to borders, only oil rights and money. Petrobuy still has the rights to Guatemala oil.”

They stood beside each other looking over the ‘flower’ golf course they had built together. “I’ll speak today,” she offered. “But you can speak at the opening of the school next month. Deal?”

“Deal. I will look forward to that Melanie. I turned the old Betancur school over to the Guatemalan government. This one will be different. Modern. The best teachers. And just for the children of golf course employees.”

“No international students this time?”

“Just the ones we recovered from the villages. Sanchez’s contacts with the Indigenous groups made that possible. They are all doing well here. That Mexican girl will be a great teacher one day. And Adrian’s grandmother is trying to get them all some sort of refugee status in Canada.”

“Speaking of Sergio. Any update there?”

“No. He is still trying to explaining to the North Korean government what he was doing trying to get two 13 year old girls across the border into China. Pertrobuy told Korea he has nothing to do with them. Guatemala is trying to get him extradited but I don’t think very enthusiastically. So no. Nothing new there.”

Melanie glanced at her One of Fifty wristwatch that Alvarez had bought her as a wedding present. “We gotta go Elesio. Richard told me they would be at the clubhouse for the opening ceremonies by noon and it is 11:45 now.”

“They still are coming together?”

“Yes. Richard picked up Laura, her mother, Adrian and his Grandmother in Calgary in the Government Challenger. They are coming down from Belize City by mini bus.”

“With a bar stocked with 18 year old Botran I would guess?”

Melanie chuckled and put her hand over his as it rested on the deck railing. “I am nervous Elesio. What if they don’t like me anymore? I am not sure Laura was in favor of us getting together? What if Richard wants me to do something else?”

He squeezed her hand. “Nothing to be nervous about Melanie. Except me beating you at the ceremonial opening round this afternoon?”

Melanie punched his arm “In you dreams you little Simian.”

“Always,” Alvarez thought to himself as they left the deck and started the walk to the clubhouse.

“Always.”

 

Thank you for choosing to read THE DARK WEB. I sincerely hope you were entertained. Whatever your experience with this book, you could entertain me in return with your feedback. It is only through learning about the experiences of readers like you that I can improve my efforts at story telling. You can send comments to:

[email protected]

Thank you in advance for your help.

D.G. Marshall

 

Other books by the author:

 

“The Ticket” (www.Shakespir.com/books/view/388792) or download from Amazon Kindle

 

“The Sand Trap” (http://www.Shakespir.com/books/view/228747) or download from Amazon Kindle.

 

 

About the Author

D.G. Marshall was born in Canada in 1949 on a farm just outside of Horning’s Mills, Ontario. Recently retired after a long career in Post Secondary Education, Dr. Marshall has lived and worked in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, the Northwest Territories and St. Lucia in the Caribbean. While a published author of academic articles, this is Marshall’s third full-length fiction. Marshall has been married for forty-six years, has two sons and four grandchildren and spends part of the year at a cottage near Rutherglen, Ontario, and the rest of the year in Calgary —and various warm places.

 

 


The Dark Web

The Dark Web is the sequel to THE SAND TRAP. The novel starts as Melanie McDougal plays her last tournament in the TOUR CHAMPIONS tour. Her subsequent retirement at the "Folly" is interrupted by a contract to travel to Belize to build a new golf course and to neighbouring Guatemala to assist in the recovery of a kidnapped 15 year old Canadian girl. The recovery assignment turns into a mission to disrupt an international drug and pornography ring operating from a girls private school near the Tikal Mayan ruins. Melanie partners with undercover Guatemalan agents and the kidnapped girl's 16 year old First Nation boyfriend to confront a Guatemalan grandfather. With the assistance of the local Indigenous group, they face Mexican drug gangs, corrupt officials and the Guatemalan jungle in order to bring the girl home to her single mother in Calgary.

  • ISBN: 9781370361014
  • Author: D.G. Marshall
  • Published: 2017-08-23 16:02:22
  • Words: 132746
The Dark Web The Dark Web