The Third Good Thing
We had another great time skiing on Wednesday. The good powder had been pretty well tracked up and some of the groomed trails glazed over early. That was nice in a way, because we could ski faster with no added effort, but it was easier to catch an edge in old track. We had some pretty good crashes, but they were the kind that looked scarier than they were.
Hector and I left about half an hour before the lifts closed so we could get ready for our meeting with Sgt. Arrisola and the PICH officer. When we were back at the house I made a cup of coffee to drink while I got ready, using the espresso maker in the little room where I’d met Eddie. The last thing I wanted was to be groggy and start to forget things when I made my statement. I brought the coffee up to the room with me and got out of my ski things, took a quick shower, and dressed in street clothes. I’d only brought one nerdy shirt, a blue one with button front and a button-down collar. I wore that with a pair of tan Dockers and a dark blue sweater with cream-colored piping across the shoulders and down the sleeves.
bother with a jacket. I’d just be outside for a few minutes going from
the house to the car and the car to the restaurant. I looked like I just
came from school on an autumn day. I took my phone off the charger and
checked it for messages. There was one from my father, seven of them from
Lisa, and one from my mother. Poor Lisa.
I’d never called her since I said I was in trouble in
I could call her from the car. I met Hector downstairs and he had his briefcase with our documents. We sat while we waited for Lucero, and he went over things I should and shouldn’t tell Sgt. Arrisola. I was surprised when Marco wandered in, and I stood with Hector to greet him. I said, “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
He said, “The others must have a driver here while Lucero takes you to your meeting. I brought a different car out for him to drive for this purpose, and I will drive it back to Santiago tonight.”
I nodded, once again caught off guard with the level of detail the company adhered to. Out of curiosity I asked Marco, “Is someone watching that restaurant?”
I saw a flicker of a smile cross his face and he said, “Yes, since the appointment was made with Arrisola. The PICH has a surveillance crew in place, and we have a few men watching over everything.”
“What could happen?” I asked.
Hector said, “Paul, don’t worry.”
I said, “I’m not worried. I just wonder what they’re looking for.”
Marco looked at Hector, who nodded, and turned back to me. “First, if Martinez has learned about this meeting he would likely do one of several things. He could send people in, possibly for a late lunch, and they would hang around with snacks until you show up. The restaurant isn’t the kind of place where that would be normal and the PICH would attempt to identify them, or possibly go in and tell them to leave. Either way, they would be watched or detained until after you have come and gone. The parking lot is another high-risk area, so they will keep a close eye on suspicious activity there, such as an abandoned van or men just sitting in a car, and especially for an indication that Arrisola and the PICH agent may have been followed there.”
I asked, “What about Sgt. Arrisola?”
Marco shook his head, “His record is spotless, and his reputation is that of a good, honest family man. He’s married with children. His wife is in advertising and has a large income, so he is less susceptible to bribes. He is involved with his neighborhood association, his church, and his kids’ schools. He appears to be a happy man.”
“And?” I asked, thinking there was an opinion that wasn’t being expressed.
Marco looked at Hector and Hector nodded. He turned a grim little smile to me. “You’re very bright. I don’t think our concern is Arrisola, but the people higher up. When Silva let Martinez loose, three people in increasingly higher positions signed off on it after the fact. Of course, they were the first to condemn Silva when he was caught at it, and all claimed to have been totally deceived by the man.” He looked at me sadly, “Unfortunately, corruption became ingrained in all of the nation’s offices during the Pinochet years, and there are still pockets of it. Santiago has a generally fine police force, but in some areas of the city the old officers still serve, and that old mentality persists to this day. Unfortunately, the area where you were accosted is one of the worst, and Martinez has operated freely there for years.”
“He just gets away with it?”
Marco frowned, “It is more like he pays to be ignored. He is one of the worst, prostituting children, often very young children. He isn’t fussy, and he uses both boys and girls regardless of their ethnic background. A black is a white is a native to that man. It is rumored that he sells children to pedophiles around the world, and it is well known that he produces mountains of pornography. We haven’t learned that he is a drug seller, but he dopes the kids he uses into compliance.”
“Jesus!” I said, and apologized when Marco crossed himself.
Lucero came running down the stairs and said, “I’m sorry,” when he reached us. “I was getting extended instructions. We have to hurry, and I’ll explain in the car.”
I looked at Marco and he said, “Go!”
I went. Our regular vehicle was in the driveway, but Lucero walked to a white Audi in front of the building next door. He and Hector got in front and I sat in back. Lucero started the car and took off quickly. He didn’t say anything until we were on the road to Santiago. We were going pretty fast, but the road looked dry. Even though we were taking the hairpins at speed and I was being tossed back and forth, the car seemed glued to the road.
Lucero finally spoke and said, “There has been some trouble already. Four punks who work for Ramirez arrived at the restaurant around noon and the PICH has them in custody. Our team across the road said they were followed by two other vehicles that they’re suspicious of, but they continued up the mountain. Our company advised PICH, and we have sent two cars to seek them out. They will also watch for our approach, and if those other vehicles attempt to enter the restaurant they will be stopped.”
I groaned and mumbled, “What did I ever do to deserve this?”
Hector asked, “What’s that, amigo?”
I shook my head, “Nothing. Can I call Lisa?”
I heard Hector’s deep chuckle when he told Lucero, “Heart line.”
Right. We were in a dead spot. I closed the phone and I tried a minute later, and every minute until I saw a bar, which disappeared when Lucero went around another turn. I kept trying, and I finally got a bar that lasted, and a second one appeared almost immediately. I dialed, but I did the regular Vermont number, so I called again using the codes to connect me to the US first. Nothing happened, and the ‘no signal’ sign popped up.
It was frustrating, but it happened in Vermont a lot. Most towns have a good enough signal, but rural roads in the mountains are touch and go, mostly go as in no cell in sight.
I grumbled something and Hector asked, “Trouble?”
“No, not really. I haven’t talked to Lisa since I hung up on her Monday night. Now I can’t get a signal.”
Hector said, “I’ve been keeping your father up to date. Won’t she call him?”
I didn’t know, and that’s what I said. In a few more minutes Lucero pulled off to the side of the road and made a call. I knew from Ally that all recent Audis came with Bluetooth as standard equipment, so he didn’t have to stop, and I figured that it was arranged in advance. Lucero was speaking softly and the rear speakers were silent. I couldn’t hear his words, but even from the back seat he sounded distressed. When he hung up he backed into a private driveway and took off back the way we came.
Hector asked him what happened and Lucero said, “Bad things. Let me drive now. I’ll tell you when my mind settles.”
I was on the edge of my seat wanting to know what was going on. Hector looked back at me, his eyes wide, but I bet mine were twice as wide. What now? I mean, exactly what in the hell else could have gone wrong? I was just going to make a statement to the police, and already four people were in custody. Now something else had happened. I wondered about the sanity of Freddie Ramirez, about why the incident in that bathroom seemed to mean so much to him. I’m no porn star material, even though it seemed he thought I was. Detective Silva was ruined, and Ramirez scared the shit out of me when I heard his voice on the hotel’s answering machine. There were people chasing us when we left the hotel in a laundry truck, and now something had happened at a supposedly double-secure location.
I heard Hector say something softly to Lucero, but just the sound of words and not the actual words. Lucero responded in the same kind of low voice, and about five minutes later he pulled off the road into a scenic outlook. Lucero got out of the car. Hector opened his door and said, “We’re just changing drivers.” He grinned and added, “You don’t get a turn.”
For once I was glad of that. The Audi was a big car and the road was narrow and twisty. I might not have done a good job with it.
When Hector started back up the mountain, Lucero asked, “Can you hear me back there?”
I did, but barely, so I leaned forward. “I’ll hear you now.”
Lucero said, “There was a trap there. About ten minutes after Arrisola and the PICH man went inside to meet you, one of the cars that our people saw earlier drove right through the restaurant wall where you would have been sitting. Arrisola had gone into the bathroom when he arrived, and the PICH agent was at the counter talking to a waitress. When the car crashed in Arrisola came out of the bathroom, which was out of view of the car, and shot the driver in the shoulder and shot the front tire on the passenger side. The agent shot the other front tire. The men in the car had drawn guns, but when the PICH agents outside came in they surrendered. The other car pulled out and started down the mountain, and one of our men fired a shot that disabled it somehow, and it went over the side where there is a drop of about fifty meters. A fire squad should be there now to determine what happened below. I doubt that there is much hope for the people in that vehicle.”
I said, “Holy shit! How could Ramirez hate me so much after a few minutes to cause all this?”
Lucero said, “There may be better news. PICH has pinpointed his location at the time of the incident using cell phone data. If they find him, he is a coward and will surrender, but he will be in Federal jurisdiction this time and his ties to the downtown police will mean nothing. If they take him soon, his days will be numbered with a very low number. He has crossed and double crossed many people, and they will love to see him come and visit them in prison.”
I said, “I hope so. Do I have to go through this again tomorrow?”
Lucero said, “No,” emphatically. “Sgt. Arrisola and an agent from PICH will arrive at the house shortly after we do, and enjoy dinner with us. They just want a statement from you, which should only take some minutes. After that, you are free of this whole affair.”
I said, “I like that,” and was curious. “Why did you seem so upset before?”
There was silence from the front seat, and I said, “Lucero?”
He said softly, “It is that car that went over the cliff. I have to believe that most or all of the men in it are dead, and I have seen too many times how an honest man torments himself when he knows he has killed someone when that wasn’t his intention. I had to explain this to Dani last night. I haven’t ever killed anyone, but when I was shooting to disarm that kid before he could murder his kidnaping victim … the vision of his hand falling from his arm will haunt me forever.”
I said, “You saved a life.”
“I know. I know that, but I wanted to shoot the gun from his hand, or at least make him misfire. I didn’t have time to aim properly and the result was hideous. It took him a moment to realize his hand was gone, and he kept his arm there like he still had the gun and didn’t understand why it wouldn’t fire. We had no time though. I picked up the victim and tried to reassure him, but I had to leave the other boy there bleeding with no right hand.”
I said, “You say boy. I was told they were professional kidnapers.”
“They were, and the boy I shot was seventeen. He looked more like fifteen. The other one was twenty. They were agents of a larger gang and I shouldn’t feel bad for them. They are evil people who take businessmen and the children of businessmen for ransom. It’s a dirty business, and the ransom kidnappings are almost always by foreigners. Chilean kidnappings are few and usually involve divorced parents.”
There were lights ahead, so we were almost back to La Parva. I said, “Thanks for telling me that, Lucero. I asked Ovidio last night, and he didn’t know. Is the kid you rescued that night okay now?”
Lucero’s voice softened, “Oh, yes. He was … wait. I can’t think of the word in English. It’s traumatizada … ah! Traumatized in English I think, yes?”
I said, “I would be surprised if he wasn’t. What happened?”
“The family is close and I’m sure that is the main thing. His father found a wonderful psychologist who also helped, and his son joined an adventure club where he learned a lot about the outdoors. He’s a big boy now, at school in the U.S. He worked on a fishing boat when he was home last summer and I saw him then. He remembers his experience all to well and talked to me about it. I don’t think it bothers him a lot.”
I said, “That’s good,” just when Hector turned the Audi into the driveway. When Hector got out of the car, Marco came from the house. Hector dangled the key and Marco took it as he went by. He got in the car, slammed the door closed, and took off in a hurry.
I wanted to yell something after him, but didn’t, and I turned around just in time to see Hector and Lucero shrug, watch the car disappear, and turn to the house. I followed them in. It was still early, and when I learned the other guys were in the spa area I hurried over. I tore my clothes off and shoved them in a locker, snagged a towel and hurried to the pool. Nobody was there, and it didn’t matter to me. I dove in from the board at the deep end and did two fast laps before sitting on the edge and wondering where the others were. I took a walk and poked my head into the sauna room. They weren’t there and I didn’t hear anyone, so I dried off better and got dressed to meet Sgt. Arrisola.
My timing was good and I ran into Eddie in the hall on his way to get me. He led me to the other end of the house, which I hadn’t been to yet. We turned into a comfy-looking room with a great view to the rear courtyard. It was likely the family dining room. It was done up in shades of brown, deep red and amber. There was a table for six in the middle with six chairs around it, and several other pieces of furniture. I sensed a logistics problem because there were already six people in the room, so Eddie and I made it eight. Attorney Menendez was there and we quietly greeted each other. Ovidio introduced me to Sgt. Arrisola and Agent Miller from the PICH.
They were quite a pair. Sgt. Arrisola looked to be in his late thirties, had thinning hair and a short, rotund stature. He also had a winning smile, and when we shook hands he said, “Welcome to Chile. I understand you’ve had the reception we normally reserve for former dictators, with three assassination attempts on you already. That puts you in trophy territory, and it is your first visit.”
I laughed, and everyone laughed with me.
Agent Miller was a tall, blond man with an athletic look to him. He had thin lips and smiled grimly when we said hello, and that’s all we said.
When Arrisola was ready to take my statement, Hector, Ovidio, Lucero and Eddie excused themselves and left the room, and the rest of us sat at the long sides of the table. I was on one side with Atty. Menendez while Arrisola and Miller sat opposite us.
Arrisola set a pad of paper in front of him, and then handed an envelope to me. He said, “This is the statement Detective Silva submitted as coming from you. Please take your time looking it over and let me know what you think. If you have any trouble with the police language, I can help you.”
I said, “Okay,” and took the papers from the envelope. There were two sheets stapled together and I put them between Menendez and myself. The first half of page one were my statistics and they all looked fine, though I don’t know my passport number off hand. The rest of that page looked okay, too, where it stated the purpose of my visit to Chile, who I was with, where we were staying, and went into the details of the call the police received from the restaurant, the name of the place, the time of day, various employee’s names and positions and blah, blah, blah.
It was the next page where it went to Hell.
Subject and his party entered the restaurant appx 7pm (verified by waiter and receipt).
The party ordered house specialties, and created a stir when they loudly celebrated success of subject’s brother on a timed run at El Colorado. The tour guide (Ovidio Medina, Adventure Chile, perm res Santiago) stood and explained their enthusiasm.
The party ate their meal with no alcohol consumed (confirmed by waiter and beverages listed on receipt).
Subject stated that after his meal he needed to relieve himself and went alone to the men’s restroom. He said that when his victim walked in the man attempted to make conversation with him and subject did not like that. When he finished with the urinal he went toward the sink to wash his hands, and when the victim turned around subject viciously kicked the victim in the groin three times, causing victim to fall to the floor.
time, subject’s bodyguard, Hector Torres (perm res
End of Statement
Subject Paul Dunn seemed quite nervous while giving this statement. I disregarded this because of his young age and his experience in the rest room. When the party left the restaurant an officer noticed the subject entered a nearby magazine shop where he purchased six American pornographic magazines.
The victim, Fernando Ramirez, a businessman in that area, declined to press charges. He was taken into protective custody and signed out the next evening.
I looked at Sgt. Arrisola and said, “The first page is accurate, though I don’t know my passport number. Hector has it. That statement is mostly fabricated, and not what I told the detective.”
Arrisola looked at me and said, “So you repudiate that, and swear the statement is not factual?”
“That’s right; most of it isn’t what I said.”
He asked, “Are you ready to give your statement now?”
“Do you mind if I record it?”
Miller put his hand up and said, “I would like to record it separately.”
I looked at Menendez and he nodded slightly, so I said, “That’s fine.”
They both put little recorders on the table, fussed with them for a moment, and each told me when he was ready.
Arrisola started by saying where we were, identifying everyone present, giving the time and date, his badge number and a lot of other crap. He then asked me all the personal questions like name, address, phone number, age, height, weight, everything but my shoe size. When he got through that, he said the date we were talking about and said, “What follows is the statement of Paul Dunn.”
He smiled, winked, and said, “You’re on.”
I went through the whole tale again. The scene in the men’s room at the restaurant was the only pertinent thing, and it took longer to put it into words than it took to actually happen.
When I was done, Sgt. Arrisola asked if I could answer a few questions to clarify things, and I looked at Atty. Menendez. On his nod I said, “I don’t mind.”
Arrisola looked at some notes and asked, “Where did this talk about a gun come from?”
I said, “The
first time I heard it, it came from Detective Silva. I told him then that
“The knife was on the floor?”
I said, “Sorry, yes. That’s what I meant.”
“Hector Torres doesn’t carry a gun?”
“No, my father wouldn’t allow it.”
“How can he be your bodyguard if he is unarmed?”
I said, “Bodyguard is Silva’s word. Hector is our guardian on this trip. It was just circumstances that night, not his mission. There are three of us, and he is responsible to keep us all safe and out of trouble.”
Sgt. Arrisola smiled, “I believe we’re done then. Will you be around if we have more questions?”
Menendez pointed at me and shook his head. “Sergeant, that is one of the questions that is disallowed. This investigation is about a past event, not Mr. Dunn’s future plans. All the information is on file if you need to contact him, and your question is inappropriate.”
Arrisola smiled, looked at me and said, “Of course. I apologize.”
I smiled back and said, “Apology accepted.”
Arrisola looked at Agent Miller and said, “I’m finished. Do you have anything more?”
at me and said, “Just a few questions. Have you ever seen or heard of
Fernando Ramirez before you came to
“Did you hear his
name, or were you recommended to him after your arrival in
I said, “I don’t know what you mean by recommended to him, but I never heard his name until after the deal at the restaurant.”
“So, you never asked, say a cab driver or someone in your hotel where you might find a young prostitute?”
I said indignantly, “No! Where the hell did that come from?”
Menendez patted my shoulder and whispered “Don’t get angry.” He turned to Miller and asked, “What does your question have to do with anything? These boys are here to ski, and they wear themselves out every day. When they go out, it’s with their guardian and tour guide to sample Chilean food. It’s ludicrous for you to imply that they are in this country to have sex with underage girls.”
Miller said, “I don’t mean to imply anything. I am only wondering why a boy, after an experience like that, would purchase pornography.”
I said, “I did not purchase pornography. I bought six Spanish-language copies of Healthy Woman magazine because it has an interview with my brother and some photos. Another diner in the restaurant recognized Dana from it and asked him to pose for a picture with her little girl.”
“You’re saying that was another falsehood from Detective Silva.”
“Is your brother famous?”
I said, “Not really, but he will be. He’s making a name for himself.”
Miller looked at Menendez and said, “I don’t have anything else.” He glanced to his right, “Sgt. Arrisola?”
Arrisola shook his head and turned a smile to me. “Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, Paul.”
I said, “You’re welcome. Are you alright after your adventure in that restaurant?”
He said, “Oh, I am fine, but I hate when that happens.”
I snickered, “Do you mean when cars burst through restaurant walls? This wasn’t the first time?”
He grinned, “Oh, it was the first time for me, and I didn’t like it too much.”
I chuckled, liking the guy. I asked, “Was there a lot of damage to the building?”
Sgt. Arrisola said, “Not to the overall structure, but that car came into the main dining room so they will have to close until repairs can be made.”
I asked, “Will insurance cover it?”
He grimaced, “I hope so. The restaurant is insured against fires and such and the auto is required to have a certain amount of liability insurance. The car was stolen, though, and I am not sure how that will work.”
I had a sudden thought and looked at Atty. Menendez. “I didn’t know you would be here. Were you in that restaurant, too?”
He said, “Almost. I was parking my car on the other side of the building. I heard the crash and the gunshots, and I saw the other car go off the cliff just down the hill from me. Sometimes the best action is inaction. I locked my car and sat in it until a uniformed officer tapped on my window and asked what I was doing there. I told him my business and he brought me inside to meet these gentlemen. I was very relieved to learn that you had turned back and the meeting would be here.”
I said, “I’m glad you’re all unhurt. Do you know what time dinner will be?”
Sgt. Arrisola got to his feet and said, “Hector Torres said it would be ready when we are. We only have to open the door. I am quite ready, but I would like to wash up first.”
I said, “I’ll open the door then,” and crossed the room and did that. Paco showed up momentarily and I grinned, “You are very prompt.”
He shrugged, “I was told to watch the door.”
“I’m glad you did. These gentlemen would like to wash up before dinner. Can you show them where to go and let everyone else know we’re ready when the food is?”
“Of course.” He looked at the lawyer and the policemen and gestured, “This way, gentlemen.”
I went up to my room. The bathroom door was closed and I tapped on it, “Tom?”
“Just a minute.”
I said, “No rush, I just wanted to know if you were here.”
I looked in my suitcase for a copy of the Healthy Woman magazine for Agent Miller in case he had any lingering doubts. A corner of the front cover had gotten crumbled, and I straightened it as well as I could.
The bathroom door opened and Tom came out wearing just a towel. I said, “We have company for dinner.”
“Hector told us.”
I said, “We’re going to eat as soon as everyone is ready. Where were you guys when I got back? I looked for you.”
“I don’t know when you got back, but we were watching a movie for a couple of hours.”
“Oh. Ovidio said you were in the spa.”
“That’s where the theater is.”
I rolled my eyes, “Why didn’t I think of that? Of course the theater would be in the spa. Is it underwater or does it double as a steam room?”
Tom said, “Hey, I didn’t build this place.”
I said, “I want to wash up,” and went to the bathroom. After I went I washed my hands because they were slimy and smelly from nervousness, cursed my hair, and went back for the magazine.
Tom asked, “Ready?” and we walked out.
I asked, “Did Hector tell you what happened?”
“He said your meeting was moved to here.”
“He didn’t say why?”
“He didn’t say anything.”
I said, “Hold up. Wait till you hear this,” and gave Tom the two-cent version of what went on at that restaurant. I couldn’t give him the visuals because I never got there myself, but it still made a pretty wild story.
Tom was wide-eyed, “Wow! Do you know what happened to the guys in the car that went off the cliff?”
We headed down the stairs and I said, “No, but I did think about it. You know, with some of the drop-offs around here, when I heard fifty meters I didn’t think too much about it. When I did think about it, in a falling car fifty meters is not much different than five hundred or two thousand meters. You just don’t get to be scared for as long.”
Tom groaned, “You are really one sick individual, but your logic isn’t all that bad. I guess if you know you’re gonna die and there’s no out, it would be better if there wasn’t too much time to dwell on it.”
I said, “Keep that in mind when you want to shove someone off a mountain.”
Ovidio was in the dining room when we got there, but he was alone so we were the first ones down. He asked, “How did it go, Paul?”
“Good, I guess. You should have seen the statement that Silva said I gave. It said, in my own words of course, that I viciously attacked the victim and …”
Ovidio held his hand up and cried, “Stop! The victim?”
I laughed, “Oh, yeah. It said he was put in protective custody and signed himself out the next day, apparently when he felt safe from me, or something like that.”
Ovidio asked, “That was in the official report?”
“I don’t know where it was, but it was in what Silva said was my statement, and it said that Hector came in with a gun drawn and put it to the creep’s head. It was just unreal. Oh, and at the end Silva said an officer observed me going into a magazine shop and coming out with American porn magazines.”
Ovidio grinned, “Is that one of them in your hand?”
I held it up and said, “Yup! I don’t know what they call pornography in the rest of the world, but this is porn American-style, all sanitized for public consumption.”
The cover featured a somewhat chubby woman sweating her way up a mountain trail somewhere, and the caption was ‘Climb Your Way to Better Health’. There was a small picture in a corner and it read, ‘Meet Dana Morasutti, King of the Hill. Learn How He Got There’.
Tom said, “Don’t show me filth like that, Paul. You’re getting me all aroused.”
Ovidio and I laughed then, and Dana showed up already grinning with Daniel. I leaned close to Daniel and whispered, “Want to see some really good American pornography?”
Poor Daniel took a step backwards with a priceless look on his face. I held the magazine out and said, “Here. Take a look. This is what American boys like when they need their, um, private time.”
He looked and backed away even further, his expression now one of horror. He pointed and said, “She is fat.”
Tom said, “Well, there’s an obesity problem in our country if you don’t know it, so you have to get used to that.”
Daniel wasn’t convinced, “She is old, too.”
Tom nodded, “That comes with the obesity. Lose the weight and you lose the age. You can ask anyone. It’s all over the TV.” Tom snatched the magazine from me and said, “Paul was covering up the real porn. Look here.”
Daniel took the magazine and said, “That guy looks like Dana.” He looked at Dana when we all laughed, and he pointed at the picture again, “You?”
Dana got into the spirit and said, “That’s me, American porn star like no other. Open up to page one-oh-six for the good pictures.”
Daniel dropped the magazine and said, “I don’t want to.”
I picked it up off the floor, found the page where the article started and handed it back to him. “We’re just kidding. This is an interview with my mother’s … fiancée. She runs this magazine. It’s all about Dana.”
Daniel looked and seemed to read a few lines, and looked back at us and said, “You were fooling me.”
Tom said, “Just a little.”
Daniel smiled, “That was funny, let me read this.”
I said, “We can find you a copy to keep if you want.” I looked at Dana and asked, “Do you still have a copy?”
He gave me a dirty look and said, “I don’t know where it is.”
Tom said, “Daniel can have mine. I can’t read Spanish … Yet.”
Hector and Lucero came in then, followed very shortly by Paco leading Atty. Menendez, Sgt. Arrisola and Agent Miller.
When Paco left I introduced Dana, Tom and Daniel to the policemen and attorney and handed Agent Miller a copy of the magazine saying, “Here’s your American porn.” He looked at the cover and smiled, and his smile brightened when I pointed out the picture of Dana. He asked if he could keep it and I said, “By all means.”
We sat for dinner with me between Agent Miller on my right and Sgt. Arrisola on my left. Dana was to the right of Miller, Tom to the left of Arrisola. Lucero was to Tom’s left with Daniel beside him and the circle completed with Atty. Menendez, Ovidio, Eddie and Hector.
Hector asked the officers if they would like wine. Sgt. Arrisola said he would like some while Miller declined because he was driving. Atty. Menendez declined for the same reason. Hector told Paco to bring something appropriate for the meal for the rest of us. We already had goblets of water.
Paco brought out hot bread and butter, followed by figs and goat cheese. He brought four bread baskets and four little platters of figs and cheese and put one of each in front of me. I picked up the bread basket and held it to my left for Sgt. Arrisola, and then to my right to Agent Miller. I repeated with the butter dish and then with the figs and cheese.
The goat cheese was so fresh it was leaking onto my appetizer dish. It was delicious, and the figs were brandied and wonderfully sweet. Paco came with white wine in carafes and set out glasses for us. Since Agent Miller wasn’t having any, he set out four carafes so there would be one within reach of everyone and we wouldn’t have to be formal pouring wine for each other.
The table was quiet while we munched, and Paco came back with little tureens. “Your appetizer is baked scallops with shallots and butter.” He used tongs to put a tureen on each of our dinner plates, warning us that the dishes were very hot.
I took another piece of bread to catch my drippings and put my fork into a steaming scallop. I let it cool for a minute and bit into it. It had more flavor than shallots and butter would account for. It was absolutely delicious, and people were agreeing with me just with their murmurs of pleasure.
When I finished, I said to nobody in particular, “Those were great!”
Sgt. Arrisola said, “I take it you like our Chilean seafood?”
I said, “I
liked everything I’ve had here.” I spoke a little louder, “If I never ran
That got a chuckle from our skiing group. Arrisola asked, “Do you eat together every night?”
I had my mouth open to answer when I thought of the night I met Ramirez. We’d told the police then that our driver was watching the car. I said, “Not at first. On our first two nights the driver sat near the door where he could see the car from inside. One night he paid some guy to watch it when we ate in a hacienda and he sat with us. That night with Ramirez, the car was down the street and he stayed with it. That was last week. Since then we’ve been together because we’ve had to be. You know, getting out of town, then coming back and people shooting up our hotel rooms so we had to hide up here.”
I sensed humor
on my right, and when I looked at Agent Miller he was laughing. When he
noticed me he put a hand on my arm and said, “Forgive me. I don’t mean to
make light of the trials you’ve faced here, but most men would give up an arm
and their families to escape to, as you put it, a place like this to
hide.” He looked around and smiled, “I might myself.” He turned to
me and said, “How a little gamberro like
on my left said, “Amen.
Paco took our
tureens away. Miller said thoughtfully, “You know, Sergeant. If we
can find some way to inject
Arrisola said, “His punks won’t say anything. It will be bad brakes as usual.”
Paco was back with our dinners. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking at, but it was seafood over pasta with a pink sauce, with pieces of empty red shell for decoration. Paco said, “Chilean king crab in shrimp sauce. I hope you like it.”
I sure liked the looks of it. Dana asked, “What’s this pasta?”
I knew what it was, but couldn’t bring the name up right away. It was like spaghetti with a hole in the center. The hole brought it to me: buca, and I said, “It’s bucatini.”
Dana said, “Dammit, how do you know all this stuff?”
I said, “I don’t know. Just eat.”
I ate, and was in heaven. I love Alaskan king crab, which is the only kind I’d had before. This was clearly from a smaller creature, and it was even better tasting than Alaskan. The buttery, lemony shrimp sauce only enhanced the briny sweetness of the crab meat. Mine disappeared in no time, and I sat back to burp quietly and sip wine.
Paco took our
place settings away as we finished, and Hector offered, “If any of you don’t
want to drive back to
Miller said, “That’s very kind, but we have our reports to do, and still have to be at work in the morning.”
Hector said, “It’s just an offer. Please, at least stay through coffee, or Paco said he can fix you some for the road.”
Agent Miller smiled, “I’ll need both hands for the drive down the mountain, and don’t mind staying for coffee.” He looked at Sgt. Arrisola and asked, “Agreed?”
Poor Sgt. Arrisola looked like he was considering lopping off his arm, and hoping his family would understand if he decided to just stay where he was forever, but he said, “Of course. We’ll have coffee, and maybe dessert if there is one. A coffee and a good dose of sugar will get us down the mountain road safely.”
Paco heard that and asked, “You’re ready for dessert and coffee?”
Ovidio nodded to him, and Paco hurried to the kitchen.
I looked across the table at Atty. Menendez and caught his eye. “You’ve been pretty quiet.”
He smiled, “I suppose I have. It’s a quiet room, and I’m enjoying being here in such surroundings with a very nice group of people. I thoroughly enjoyed that wonderful meal.”
I looked first at Sgt. Arrisola and then at Agent Miller. I asked, “Am I finally off the hook here? Can I go skiing now, and not worry that someone new won’t try to make Freddie my victim again?”
distressed Miller, and I turned my head when Sgt. Arrisola said, “Regretfully,
neither of us can promise any such thing before Agent Miller files his
report. We have spoken and both believe your version of things. He
is a Federal agent and his report will override anything written by the local
police, but it has to be written and filed. I doubt that
That wasn’t what I wanted to hear, and I looked imploringly at Hector, Ovidio, Atty. Menendez and Lucero, and they looked at me as balefully as horses awaiting their grain.
Silence prevailed until Tom spoke up. “Can’t you file your report from here by computer? Maybe by fax?”
Ovidio said, “I’m staying in the owner’s suite. There is a very modern office there.”
Miller looked at Tommy and asked, “What advantage would that give us?”
Tom said, “First, you could make sure it’s done and nobody can interfere with it. Second, you won’t have to drive down this mountain in the dark wondering if someone with a bazooka or something is waiting for you.”
Paco showed up with dessert, announcing, “Torta de piña,” but all eyes were on Agent Miller.
Miller looked to be conflicted at first, then worried, and his face finally found an expression of resolve. “Let me call my wife.”
Sgt. Arrisola said, “Me, too,” and they walked off in different directions with their cell phones.
I glanced at Atty. Menendez and he said, “I have to call home, too.” He smiled at Tommy and said, “Good job.”
When he left to call home, we all crowded around Tommy, me first. I gave him my best ‘I’m way shorter than you’ hug and squeezed hard.
I live with smart people, and I know a lot of smart people. Tommy’s mind is as bright as his red hair, and he is as smart as a whip, as the saying goes. He works hard for his grades, but he knows how to work his studies into a kind of pleasure. He’s no prodigy, but he has a certain genius, and his genius is to realize exactly when it’s needed. When nobody had a solution, or even understood the question, Tom came up with a suggestion, and he’d have ten in reserve with a half-dozen variations on each to choose from.
It was bold for a skinny American kid to tell two Chilean cops what they should do, and he really only offered a suggestion, but it was irresistible. Heh, that’s what Tommy was: the irresistible force against the immovable object. Tommy did it, though, and all those important people were calling home to explain their absence.
Paco was distressed that nobody was sitting. Hector told him, “Important things are happening. Hold the coffee a bit longer, but you can go ahead and serve the cake.”
A minute later, a fat slice of pineapple cake was at my place, and I saw Tom looking longingly at his. Dana and Daniel were doing the same, so I sat and picked up my dessert fork and got a good mouthful of cake on it and asked, “Don’t want your dessert? I’ll take it.” I bit down and got stars in my eyes. Talk about a sugar rush! The cake was simple white cake, a single layer, with a four-inch layer of sculpted meringue and whipped cream for frosting. There were pieces of fresh pineapple all through it.
When agent Miller sat beside me, the first thing he did was pick up the carafe of wine. He filled his glass, took a sip and sat back. “I should have agreed to this when Hector offered an hour ago.” He tipped his glass an inch toward Tom in a one-man toast and Tommy nodded to him.
After everyone finished with cake and coffee, Agent Miller went to his car to get his laptop. He needed to use his own in order to connect to the PICH private network. When he came back with it, Ovidio led him and Sgt. Arrisola to the owner’s suite.
Ovidio was back in a ten minutes with a distressed look on his face. He asked, “Do any of you have experience with computer networks?”
Tom said, “I know a little. What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know. Can you come with me?”
Tom said, “Sure,” and pushed back from the table. He looked at me and asked, “Where will you be?”
I shrugged, “I don’t know – probably the sauna or the pool for a little while. I don’t really want to stay up late.”
Tom said, “I’ll find you,” and followed Ovidio out of the room.
I looked at Dana and Daniel and asked, “What should we do?”
Dana said, “A little sauna and a quick swim sounds good to me.”
Daniel agreed, so we said goodnight to everyone and headed to the spa. Before we went to change we stopped outside the sauna where Paco had shown us how to operate it. It was simple enough. We had to decide on a temperature between seventy and ninety degrees Celsius, and the dial was set to the low end. There was an on-off button, and a little green light came on when I pressed that. There were four more similar lights below, and a blue one came on to indicate power to the heaters. Paco said the colors were different and the yellow one would come on when the sauna had reached the right temperature.
Dana asked, “How hot is seventy C?”
Daniel’s eyes were wide, “That is very hot.”
I said, “It’s about one-sixty Fahrenheit. That’s hot for sure, but that’s the point of a sauna.”
While we were talking the next light, a red one, had already lit, and I said, “Let’s get changed. It looks like this thing heats up pretty fast.”
We went to the changing room and got out of our clothes. I suggested we warm up in the shower so the sauna would be less of a shock, and that’s what we did. We stood under shower heads increasing the hot water until it wouldn’t go any farther, and gradually decreasing the cold until we found our own tolerance. That didn’t take long. When Daniel turned his water off I did the same and Dana followed.
We each took two towels and hurried over to the sauna door. The yellow light was on, which meant it was at temperature. We went in and found spots to sit on the lower benches, and sat on folded towels to avoid toasting our buns. I was sweating within three seconds and sweat was pouring out of me after about a minute. I felt a little woozy and pulled the second towel over my head to keep it cooler than the rest of me.
Dana laughed and said, “Don’t tell me you’re cold. You look like a monk or something.”
I said, “Maybe so, but I don’t want my skull to explode. I’m using this towel to keep my head cool.”
Dana and Daniel both cautiously pulled towels over their heads. Daniel asked, “How much longer do we stay in here?”
I said, “A few more minutes, then we cool off and come back in here after.”
Dana looked horrified, “We have to come back here?”
I said, “You don’t have to do anything. It’s just normal to do two or three repeats.”
I said, “That’s how it’s done, and at the end we go out and roll around in the snow. You’ll feel more alert than you ever have in your life.”
Dana stared at me for a long moment before he said, “Bullshit!”
“It’s not bull, Dana. That’s how the Finns do it.”
Dana rolled his eyes, “What the hell are Finns?”
“They are people from
I closed my eyes and let those two decide what Finns were, and when I sensed that we’d been in the heat long enough I said, “Let’s go. We have to cool off.”
I showed them the process, going for another hot shower followed by time in the pool. When we were almost to the pool I said, “Don’t jump in. Use the steps. When you get a chill, go back to the shower and to the sauna.
When we were in the pool, which felt icy cold at first, Dana wondered where Tom was. I’d been wondering the same thing, but I shouldn’t have. He was either still trying to fix whatever problem they had, or he’d fixed it and stayed around to make sure things kept working, or to undo what he’d changed to make it work for the police so it would still work the next time the owner of the place used it.
Dana and Daniel both decided they’d had enough of the sauna and wanted to swim for awhile, which was fine with me. I went out to turn it off, then ran back and dove in.
We had fun for about half an hour, playing keep away with a washcloth. When I said I was tired, we all left, rinsed the chlorine off under the shower, got minimally dressed and trudged back to our rooms. We said good night in the hall, and I went into the room expecting to find Tom sleeping, but he wasn’t there. I was only mildly surprised. I used the toilet, brushed my teeth and climbed into bed feeling about as mellow as I had on the whole trip. I hoped that Tom didn’t stay up so late that he wouldn’t want to ski the next day, and that was my last thought before I fell asleep.
When I opened my eyes in the morning Tom still wasn’t in his bed, but I heard the bathroom door open before I went back to sleep and Tom came into the bedroom. “You’re awake?”
I groaned, “I might be if you can give me a good reason.”
Tom sat on my bed, his butt on my left knee and said, “There’s a good reason.” He looked behind him and said, “This bed’s lumpy. How do you sleep in it?”
I said, “That lump is my knee, Tom. What’s my reason for getting up now that my leg is broken?”
Tom moved muttering, “Sorry,” and said, “They have Ramirez. The Feds do, the PICH. He’s behind bars as we speak.”
I sat up, “Really?”
Tom nodded. “When Miller sent his report in we had to wait for Arrisola to finish his – he doesn’t really type well. Somebody read Miller’s report, and guess what? A team had Ramirez under surveillance for something else and they picked him up, just like that, for assault on a Federal agent. Miller seriously thinks that since he’s in the hands of the PICH, the guys in that car will talk, and say everything they know. Even if they don’t, they can hold old Freddie for a week and possibly up to a month. We’ll be long gone before he sees smog again.”
I sat up and grinned, “We have two more days of skiing. What time is it?”
Tom got up and took his phone off his bed. “It’s almost seven.”
That took a second to register. “Seven? We can’t ski at seven! The lifts don’t open till nine or nine-thirty.” I looked at Tom and asked, “How late were you up, anyhow?”
“About twelve-thirty. Why?”
I started wiggling my fingers at him. “You need sleep, Tom. Wonderful, blissful sleep, so you can be at your best later. Lie down and close your eyes; I command it.”
Tom said, “Screw your command, but okay. Wake me up after.”
Tommy stretched out on his bed. After a few minutes I wanted to ask him what took so long the night before, but he rolled over and snored before I started the question. I did the same, except I don’t snore.
I came to at and sat up in bed. It was snowing lightly outside, and I seriously needed the bathroom. Tom stirred when I got up and asked, “Is it time to get going?”
I said, “I’ll call you when I’m done in the bathroom. I won’t be long.”
Tom didn’t respond so I got some clean underwear from my bag and left. I didn’t really need a shower, but I looked pretty ragged in the mirror so I took one anyhow, just a quickie so I could start from scratch. I brushed my teeth, shaved, and tried to make my hair sit down. It was wet, so I could do what I wanted, but as soon as a single strand dried it tried to peek out and brought the nearest ten hairs with it.
I gave up and
woke Tom before I got dressed. He told me not to wait for him, so I
didn’t. While I walked downstairs I finally grasped the enormity of what
Tom told me. Ramirez was in jail. Regardless of what charges they
could make stick, he would be out of the picture until long after we were back
No more creepy, crawly Freddie. Yay!
The dining room table was set, but the lights were off and nobody was there, so I went around to the little nook where I first met Eddie, and I met him again. This time he smiled and stood when I came in. “Did you hear the news?”
I said, “If you mean about Ramirez, Tom told me.”
He said, “Good. Agent Miller and Sgt. Arrisola left early to file their charges, and they left it to me to wish all you boys a happy end to your visit.”
I smiled, “Thanks. Is everyone else still sleeping?”
“No, Lucero, Ovidio and Hector are on a conference call, and it has been going on for a while.” He said, “Help yourself to coffee,” and gestured to the espresso machine. There was now a regular Krups drip machine beside it, the pot steaming hot.
Alright! Things were good again. The Earth, at least my little part of it, was back on its proper axis and spinning normally. I poured a cup, added my drop of milk, and even the planets aligned when I took a sip. The coffee was strong and wonderful, and I asked Eddie if he knew where it came from.
He looked at
me and said, “That is Folgers coffee from
I said, “It’s great,”
wondering if there was really a Folgers company in
Eddie laughed, and I sat down to enjoy the coffee and watch the snow. It was still light snow, not a storm, but fluff falling from the sky. It did put me in my snow mood, which is a little like a daydream about nothing, and I relaxed into it until I heard voices out by the stairs.
I put my empty cup by the sink and hurried over to the dining room, where I found Daniel and Dana. The lights were on and there were fresh flowers on the table, and carafes of different juices in a tray of ice water on the sideboard. They had their backs to me and were unaware of my presence, so I ran in screaming, “Bats! Bats are everywhere. Quick, under the table!”
I loved it. They both dropped down and scurried under the table while I laughed, silently at first, but I couldn’t hold back long before I laughed out loud. I had to walk around the table to see their faces peering out, their fearful expressions quickly fading into looks of embarrassment, followed by glares of pending retribution. I just laughed and said, “Got you that time!”
I had an ‘uh-oh’ moment when Dana whispered something to Daniel and Daniel nodded. When they crawled out and stood they were both grinning, and Dana said, “Good one! Where’d you learn to squeal like a girl?” He cried in a falsetto voice, “Bats, oh bats! What will we do?”
I said, “I didn’t sound like that.”
Dana said, “You will later.”
“I’m quaking in my slippers,” I said, holding my shaking hands out for them to see. “Did you hear the news?”
Dana was suddenly serious, “What news?”
“Freddie is in jail. They bagged the creep.”
Daniel was suddenly beside Dana again, the big question on both of their faces. I said, “The Feds have him. They were watching him for something else, and when Agent Miller filed his report he was right there in front of them, so they grabbed him.”
Dana was quiet for a long moment before he asked, “No more hide and go seek?”
I grinned and shook my head.
“No more worrying where we’ll be the next day?”
Dana stared at me, and I asked, “Did you notice that it’s snowing out?”
He grinned, “I did.”
Daniel smiled, “I noticed, too.”
We filled glasses with juice and sat down. I was hoping we wouldn’t have long to wait, and we didn’t. Tom was there in a minute, all smiles, and shortly Hector, Ovidio, Eddie and Lucero came in, their spirits high.
When they sat, Paco was there in a moment with a thermos of coffee and a tray full of condiments.
He served us two at a time. Breakfast was pancakes and sunny-side eggs. He was back in a moment with a platter of sausages, fried onions and roasted peppers. The onions and peppers surprised me, but they were wonderful when mixed with the soft eggs and a hunk of sausage.
The talk was all about Ramirez, of course, and we all had our personal version of hell to wish the creep. I don’t care where you grew up or how you grew up, but don’t take your misfortune out on young kids. Go rob banks or something, swindle people out of their hard-earned money; peddle fake Rolex watches to tourists. There are honorable ways to be a crook, but Freddie chose a path that caused misery to people my age and way younger. There was no punishment that any court in the civilized world could impose that would ever fit his crimes. They could put him away forever though, and I honestly hoped that was his fate.
While we were eating I asked Hector, “Are we going to have a chance to buy souvenirs to bring home?”
Hector said, “I’m sorry amigo, but I don’t think so. We can’t know for certain, but there’s a very good chance that Ramirez already had people watching for you.” He glanced at Ovidio and Lucero and asked, “Any ideas?”
Ovidio shook his head slowly, but Lucero said, “There are things people buy often: lapis lazuli jewelry, alpaca woolens, pan flutes. There is art, both native and modern.” He smiled over at Daniel and asked, “Any suggestions?”
Daniel looked at me and asked, “Who are these gifts for?”
I shrugged, “Friends, girlfriends, parents, parents of friends … the usual.”
He smiled, “Get music CDs for your friends. A Chilean boy would buy his girl a friendship rune, or maybe a bracelet or necklace with lapis lazuli. For parents …” he glanced at Lucero, “maybe an alpaca sweater or scarf. For other people, I don’t know. They sell little native carvings in the streets, and pan pipes like Papa said. Oh, and you can get CDs of Andean music everywhere.”
“Everywhere except here?” I asked, and Daniel nodded apologetically.
I felt bad not
bringing anything home that said I’d actually been to
I got another coffee and wondered if we could go into the regular airport to buy things before we left, but they’d have a duty-free shop full of all the same crap as duty-free shops anywhere. Booze and cigarettes from around the world, sixteen thousand items of cosmetics, and electronics priced way more than they would cost in any regular store. I felt depressed.
“I know,” Lucero said. “Each of you give me a list of what you want and I will ask a friend to find it for you. She is knowledgeable and will get you better prices than you would find yourselves.”
He looked at us in our collective daze, “Don’t worry, she won’t buy anything crazy, but you will have to accept her taste as your own. If you want an alpaca sweater, give me a size comparison to someone in your group”
Tom asked, “What exactly is alpaca?”
Daniel spoke up, “It’s an animal. They look like small llamas. Their wool is warmer than sheep’s wool, and way softer. It’s almost like the fur on a bunny.”
Hector drained his coffee and stood. “Let’s make our lists. Don’t forget anybody, and we’ll meet in front in about thirty minutes.”
I said, “I don’t think we have anything to write on in our rooms, and I don’t have a pencil or pen.”
Ovidio said, “I will bring you paper and something to write with. I’ll be at your end of the hall when you are.” With that, he stood and walked away.
We were done with our meal, but when nobody moved I poked another piece of onion on my fork and put it in my mouth. It was just as good cold as it was hot, so I took another and another.
Tom jerked to his feet beside me and said, “That’s it! Let’s go before Paul’s breath melts all the snow.”
Everyone laughed except me, and when I stood behind Tom I tried to knee his butt, but he doesn’t have one.
We walked upstairs and met Ovidio on our floor. He had two small pads of paper and four pencils. When we had them he warned, “Thirty minutes, no more. Okay?”
It was agreed, and when Ovidio walked away Daniel asked, “Do I get souvenirs, too?”
I said, “You got a pencil, so I guess so. Go for it! Don’t forget something for your father.”
Daniel grinned evilly just before I turned around to go to our room. I felt a sudden need, brought on by my big breakfast, and ran into the bathroom ahead of Tom, who banged on the door, “Don’t read a book in there. I have to go, too!”
I just groaned, “Ooh, this isn’t human,” which stopped his banging and I shat in peace.
He was quick enough to hurry in when I came out, and I sat at the desk making a list of names. There were a lot. Then I started to write things beside them. Lisa would get a love rune, of course, even if I didn’t know exactly what it would be like. Mom and Ally would get alpaca sweaters, and I said for sizes that one should fit Dana and one should fit Lucero if he had huge tits. Shea always wore a scarf when it was cold, so I put down one alpaca scarf, thought better of it and got one for everyone in his family, and thought again and ordered twenty of them to cover people I’d forgotten.
When I thought of Jim I wrote ‘Chilean porn?’ wondering if that was possible, and thought better of it, thinking he might end up with something Freddie had a hand in. Instead I asked for a popular Chilean rock CD, and put a whole lot of names after that.
When I was sure I was done, I wasn’t. Lisa was first on the list, but I never thought about her family. I didn’t even know where to start there, and left my thought with a question. Maybe wall art? Something metal?
I knew I was
forgetting people, so I added a note to get fifty knick-knack type
things. Then I was worried. I thought Dana would buy for the people
Dana was writing and he said, “Wait.”
He put down his pencil and said, “I think I got everybody. I didn’t get anything for you. Should I?”
I thought about that and said, “No. That would be dumb. We’re here. We can get what we want.”
I looked over at Daniel who was sitting on the side of his bed writing furiously. I pointed at him and whispered to Dana, “Did you get anything for him?”
Dana whispered back, “I thought about it. Should I? I think he just wants pictures.”
I knew the
feeling and nodded. My family was notorious for not taking
pictures. There were tons of pictures of me growing up, but only a
precious few had been taken by my parents. They were from school, church,
family gatherings where other people thought to bring cameras, and a lot from
parents of various friends over the years. I wasn’t doing any
better. We were in this fabulous mountain home in
I decided to get it, and went back to my own room. Tom was there writing his list and I said, “Tom!”
He jerked up in surprise, and when he saw me he said, “Oh.”
I said, “Tom. We have to take pictures, lots of pictures.”
Tommy protested, “I’ve been taking pictures all along.”
I shook my head, “Not enough. I don’t think I have a single picture of Ovidio or Lucero, and I know I don’t have one of Daniel, or any of the cops who were here, or the guys in the ski shop. I feel like such a shit.”
Tom said, “Jesus, leave it Paul. Do you honestly think you’ll ever forget this trip? I have tons of pictures, and you have two days to take more if you want. Let’s go skiing!”
Tommy was right, of course, and a-skiing we did go after leaving our lists with Lucero.
It snowed all day, but not much really accumulated. The snow impaired our vision more than anything, at least until we got smart enough to lose the goggles. The snow made skiing tricky, too, and the flat, shadowless light caused us to set a trip record for mistakes and falls. We were taking it relatively easy, too, but we just couldn’t make out the ground conditions with anything but our skis, and it was too late to correct by then. We skied until the lifts closed though, with only a half-hour break for lunch and a few quick pit stops.
There was enough new snow for us to ski right to the house, and there was a Mercedes wagon pulled around on the side. It had a ski rack, and I wondered if the owner of the place had decided to visit while we were there.
We’d had a good day and came into the house boisterously, put our gear away and hurried upstairs to get changed. Then we hurried back down to take advantage of the pool and sauna before dinner. This time, after turning the sauna on, we went into the pool first. We were still wired up from skiing, so there was a lot of yelling, splashing, dunking and general nonsense in the pool. We calmed down some in the sauna, but not a whole lot.
We’d all fallen skiing. While nobody was hurt, the heat of the sauna and the cool water in the pool was very relaxing, and by the second time we hopped in the pool we were getting pretty mellow. We visited the sauna again, and went to the pool for the third and last time after that. If we’d been mellow before, we were lethargic by then, all of us commenting on how relaxed we felt.
We were certainly clean, and it felt good to get into regular clothes. It was just past six when we walked by the dining room, and it was dark, but there were good aromas coming out of the kitchen. As always, Dana’s stomach was the first to growl. Nobody made fun of him because it had been six hours and ten tons of exercise since we’d had soup and sandwiches for lunch. I hoped the cook, who we had not yet seen, was preparing bears for each of us. I knew I could eat one, and if I could do that then Dana could finish off two and still ask for dessert.
When we reached the main entry, Paco came rushing down a hall. He said, “I am sorry for being so late. I will have the room set up and dinner ready in half an hour. Please excuse my tardiness.”
He didn’t give us a chance to excuse anything … he sprinted down the hall toward the dining room. We looked after him, and I was somewhat bemused. “I was going to tell him not to worry about it.”
Tom said, “I was about to say his fly was down.”
We shrugged and went into the little sunroom to see if there was any coffee. There wasn’t, and the room was dark when we got there. Hector had disappeared upstairs after skiing, so we seemed to have the ground floor pretty much to ourselves. With nothing much to do, we sat in the sunroom and talked. Daniel had questions.
“How much different is it here than where you live in the States?” he asked nobody in particular.
I said, “
Tom added, “
Daniel nodded and said, “But it’s not so different than here?”
I looked at Dana and said, “You answer. It’s your first time out of the country.”
Dana shrugged, “Not so different, really. Well, we have big mountain skiing for our part of the country, but the base areas here are higher than our peaks. We have glades and you don’t, and they’re a lot of fun.”
“Glades?” Daniel asked.
Dana snickered, “Sorry, you don’t even have trees on the mountains. Glades are the woods, the forest. They thin the trees and you cut your own trails through them. It’s a lot of fun if you don’t mess up.”
“Mess up?” Daniel asked, finally faced with an English term he didn’t know.
Tom held his right arm straight up and said, “Mess up. This arm is a tree.” He sniggled his left hand toward the right arm and said, “This is you coming down through the glades. Oops!” He slammed his left hand into his right arm and cried, “Ouch! I just messed up.”
Daniel laughed, and then we all laughed. I always liked Tommy’s sense of humor, but his little pantomime was a rarity and funnier because of it.
We yakked away for another ten minutes or so, and Hector came in saying, “Hey, guys.” He sat facing us on a stool by the coffee machine. “There’s a little change in plans. When Lucero was in town today he learned that Ramirez has people looking for Paul, which means all of us. Tomorrow is our last full day here, and they don’t know we’re here. Lucero changed cars and is certain that he wasn’t followed, or even noticed. The only change is on Saturday. Lucero will return our equipment to the store and bring our luggage to the airport by car, but we’ll go in a helicopter.” He looked pointedly at Daniel and said, “Your father said you’ve never been on one. You can fly down with us if you like.”
Tom said nervously, “I’ve never been on a helicopter either.”
“First time for everything,” Hector said, and he snickered. “Many choppers do actually make it to where they’re headed, so don’t get worried about it. This will be a short ride.”
Tom’s face was all gloom and he mumbled, “I won’t even be used to it.”
I bopped Tom’s shoulder and said, “Nobody’s used to it except the pilots. I’ve been a couple of times, but far apart. Those things aren’t meant to fly, but they do. Like Hector said, they get where they’re going often enough.”
Tommy looked a little sick so I turned to Daniel and asked, “Are you going to fly with us?”
He grinned, “Yes, yes! A thousand times yes!”
I looked at Tom and said, “See? There’s nothing to worry about.”
Tom looked around at us silently and finally said, “I’ll worry, okay? If we don’t fall out of the sky I’ll think about not worrying next time, but for now I’ll stay in panic mode if you don’t mind.”
I shook my head, “Well, panic if you must. You didn’t have a problem when we fell ten thousand feet over the equator.”
“You never said anything, never screamed or anything.”
“That’s because I fainted, Paul. I was trying to scream, but when I couldn’t get a sound out I passed out and forgot to scream when I woke up.”
I looked at Tom and said, “You forgot to scream? That’s kind of hilarious, you know.”
Tom blushed, “I’ll write a note to myself, okay? If we fall out of the sky again on the way home I’ll have it right in front of me and you’ll hear a scream.”
Dana nudged me, “You guys are too much.” He looked at Daniel and asked, “Did you ever hear crap like this in your life? They go on and on and on and on …” punctuating each ‘on’ with a quick nod of his head.
Daniel said, “I get it, okay? They’re funny; it doesn’t bother me.”
Dana mumbled, “Suit yourself.”
I noticed Hector looking at us and smiling benignly, and I asked, “What?”
He seemed surprised and asked, “What do you mean what?
I said, “That look … you were looking at us like my father would.”
Hector said, “Oh, I guess I was. I was just envisioning my future with children of my own, and kind of praying that when they reach your age they will share your good qualities.”
I pointed at Daniel and said, “He seems to have good qualities. The rest of us will probably face firing squads before you have any kids.”
Hector smiled, “Maybe so, but they’ll probably miss just so you can keep them laughing.”
Hector was serious, so I was glad to see Paco show up and announce shyly, “Dinner is ready. Where are the others?”
“I’ll call them,” Hector said, and looked at us, “You go on ahead; we’ll be right there.”
Paco had run off again, so we walked to the dining room and sat down. Paco was there in a minute with a basket of hot bread, back in a flash with butter dishes, then carafes of white wine. Dana looked and asked, “Why white again?”
I said, “We’re probably having more fish,” as I buttered a hunk of bread. They say you can’t live on bread alone, but it’s not alone when there’s wine. I was pretty sure I could get by on that simple combination for a good long time with such wonderful bread.
Hector, Ovidio, Eddie and Lucero came in shortly, and Paco came out with large bowls of ceviche and big piles of the little toasts they serve it on. This ceviche was different again, with the fish diced as small as the onions and peppers mixed in with it. There was a reddish tint to it, and I expected spicy hot, but it wasn’t. It was very mild, somewhat sweet, and less spicy than any we’d had before, but it was absolutely delicious. What looked like a lot when Paco served it vanished in no time and I buttered another piece of bread.
Paco cleared the dishes and came back with the main meal two plates at a time. He announced, “Chilean sea bass from the ship of el Señor. It was caught last night and is on your plate for your pleasure.”
It looked good, too, cooked on a grill hot enough to leave sear marks, with a good looking clear sauce over it. There was a serving of rice and a mixture of green beans and sweet red peppers on the same plate. Thank God Paco was hurrying because I was ready to pick it up and eat dish and all.
When everyone had their food, my first bite was a hunk of fish. Oh Lord, whoever our benefactor was deserved to be rich. My fillet was fat like a salmon, as tender as a scallop, and the most flavorful fish I ever tasted. The sauce was lemon butter, and the fish shined right through it.
The rice was plain white, but there was a bowl of brown sauce on the table that Ovidio had put on his own rice. I asked him, “What’s that sauce?”
“It’s Vietnamese, Paul. They call it nuoc mam. It’s a fish sauce and very popular here.”
I took a
spoonful for my rice and said, “I know nuoc mam. I love this stuff.
Are there a lot of Vietnamese in
He said, “Eat while it’s hot. We can talk later.”
That was a
great idea, and even my last green bean was still warm when I downed it.
Paco was back with dessert before he cleared our dinner plates. Dessert
was a big bowl of fresh fruit – melons, bananas, mangoes, papaya, passion
fruit, breadfruit, berries, all cut up and mixing in their own juices.
They were obviously fresh and imported from countries farther north, an odd
thought for a Vermonter. I was used to getting anything but local summer
vegetables and fruits from the southern states, including
I wanted to call Lisa and excused myself. I knew this house had a living room somewhere but I hadn’t seen it yet. I asked Eddie if he knew where it was and he brought me there. It was an enormous room in the other wing of the house, beautifully furnished and full of exotic looking plants. I sat in a smallish wing chair by a side wall and made my call.
Lisa answered and sounded relieved to hear my voice. “Are you all right?” she asked, “Please tell me you’re okay.”
I said, “I’m fine, and don’t have any new holes in me or anything. This has been the craziest two weeks ever, but we only missed one day of skiing and that was when Tommy pulled a muscle in his leg.”
“I’ve been calling your father. He gets reports, but he hasn’t heard from you either.”
I said, “I know, and I’m sorry, but everything has been crazy. I tried to call you yesterday but we were in a dead spot, and when I got back here I had to make a statement to the police, then it was time for dinner, and by the time I could call it was too late. When you called Monday night we’d just been shot at, and I needed the phone because that was our signal to get out of the hotel. I don’t plan these things. I don’t even have a copy of the script.”
“Oh Paul, you don’t have to be defensive. I know you’re not at fault, but I’ve been worried, and the longer I didn’t hear from you …”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’ve missed hearing your voice and don’t know what’s been going on there either. I think we’re out of trouble here, but we only have one day left. We’re getting a helicopter to take us to the plane on Saturday. I don’t know our schedule, but I’ll call you when I do.” I took a breath and lowered my voice. I almost choked when I said, “I miss you a lot. I love you, Lisa, I really do.”
Lisa made a sound that I hoped wasn’t a sob, and said, “I love you too, mister. As much as I want to talk to you, I think you should call your father and then call your mother.”
I said, “I will. I’ll call as soon as we get off.”
We talked some more, but because we were reluctant to break contact rather than having a lot to say.
After a very sweet goodbye I found a bathroom and then went back to the living room to call my father.
“Paul!” he answered. “Tell me you’re okay.”
Dad. Hector and them are worried that some guys
that. We’re coming down to
“I’ll say, and the skiing has been fantastic. I’m doing things I never thought I’d do. Dana is incredible, and even he got better on this trip. It’s kind of funny, too. All the research that went into this and the two areas we planned to skip turned out to be our favorites. That’s La Parva and Portillo. You look at their websites and they look almost quaint – creaky old poma lifts and not a lot of vertical, but skiing them is a different story.”
“They’re your favorites?” Dad asked.
I said, “Well, I don’t think anything matches the Arpa Cat skiing, but that’s hardly a normal ski area. They were our best days, and we were only at Portillo for a day.”
“And La Parva?” Dad asked.
“We skied there the day before we left for the cat skiing. It was really great, too. There was a lot of tricky stuff, and I missed a trail I was supposed to go down three times in a row.” I didn’t want to say where I was on the phone because I knew cell calls could be hacked.
I said, “I
want to call Mom before it’s too late. Is she still in
“She’s back in
“Elenora’s not with them?”
Dad said, “If they find something, we’ll go back with them for a look. We all want something that’s nice, out of the way, and where there are enough rooms in the area for guests.”
I said, “That sounds like a plan. I’m gonna call Mom and then get to bed.”
“Okay. Good night, Paul.”
“Bye, Dad. I love you, and this trip is the best gift anybody ever got, so thanks.”
Dad chuckled and hung up.
I dialed the
I said, “Please tell me you’re alone somewhere.”
She said, “Alone? I should say not. We’re finishing dinner and I must admit that for a Thursday night there is a good crowd here. Should I put you on speaker phone?”
I said, “Don’t you dare!” and she laughed.
“Hello, Paul. Without you around, and the distinct possibility that you’d be delivered in a pine box, we’ve had to devise our own amusements. Laughter is the best medicine, after all. How is your horse holding up after all this adventure?”
I said, “My horse is just fine. He’s out in the old corral just plodding around. I’m wondering if you found a place to get married, or if you have just lost your mind in general.”
She said lightly, “Oh, don’t be so testy. Yes on both accounts. We’ve found twenty-two good places to be married, and now we only need your father and Elenora to agree on one of them. As for my mind, that was lost long ago when I became besotted with the lovely Necia.”
I groaned, “Don’t be sappy, okay? I just called to tell you that I’m fine and I’ll be home sometime Saturday night.”
Ally said, “Don’t you get all huffy. For some reason, I think your mother wants to say hello. Enjoy the rest of your trip, kiddo.”
Mom came on giggling and said, “You two! You have the most wonderful conversations even when I can only hear one side. I’m delighted to learn that you are still alive and kicking, as they say. It has been a long time between calls.”
“It’s hard to call when someone with a gun is shooting your windows out, and still hard when you’re escaping in a laundry truck with someone else’s clothes on, and especially difficult when people drive their cars through your booth in a restaurant. It gets really gnarly when the police make it your fault instead of the bad guys. Oh, tell Ally that her magazine is considered American pornography here.”
I reconsidered what I said. “I’m sorry. We’ve been having fun in the mountains, but it’s been pretty intense at ground level. None of this is your fault.”
Mom said, “Oh Paul, I’m so sorry for your troubles. It’s not your fault either, but I’m happy that you’ve still managed to have a good time.”
I closed my
eyes for a moment after we ended the call. My trip to
The Freddie thing, in past tense, had been an adventure in itself. I had weak moments, but held up pretty well overall. I got to see real pros at work too, and knew they all had their own weak moments. I guess you can’t have a job like that without sometimes wondering if you’re doing too much, or using too much force, and at other times worrying that you aren’t doing enough.
I had enough
of thinking about