A Hair-Raising Tale ***
- - from the Spanish Main
THE GOOD SIGN
By: Lorenzo Dee Belveal
The sudden change of temperature gave me a momentary spell of lightheadedness. After steadying myself against the door frame for a time, my body adjusted to the welcome coolness and my eyes to the somber illumination. I surveyed the cavernous, almost-empty cantina, and laid a course toward a table somewhere near the center of the room. As soon as I had seated myself, a waitress of undistinguished appearance and indeterminate years hoved-to at my elbow and asked for my order with a monosyllabic grunt. I wrote my prescription out on her pad, since the dryness of my throat precluded speech.
While awaiting her return with the potion for effecting my resurrection, I glanced at my surroundings. A long bar flanked the wall at my right hand, at the distal end of which a bartender engaged a young woman in earnest conversation. As they talked, he leaned far forward across the counter, thus facilitating his full view into her well-stuffed de’colletage.
In a distant corner, two lovers sat head-to-head at a small table, involved in a desultory mix of verbal and manual activities. As they maintained a tenuous thread of discussion above, their hands were heavily involved in more intimate engagements, down below.
The only other customer in the place, if he might be thus dignified, occupied the last of several booths that ranged along the wall to my left. His almost recumbent form tilted precariously against the outer armrest, where sleep, unconsciousness, or death, had claimed him.
Interior decoration consisted of a threadbare curtain that was intended to further obscure the filthy front window. Several bullfight posters were randomly placed up high along the gray-green wall, alongside an ancient metal sign that proclaimed the joys of Coca Cola in Spanish, and a companion piece plumped for MEJORAL, the indigenous headache remedy.
My drink arrived. I broke off examination of the premises to give full attention to the conservation of life. Peering over the top of my glass, I saw the door open once more and a heat-ravaged figure staggered through. He was well known to me. As the cooler temperature revived him he levered himself erect and, spying me, traveled an uneven path to my table. Hospitably, I invited him to join me.
The person of whom I now speak is not your usual run-of-the-mill North American expatriate that one gets used to seeing in these southern climes. Beginning with his name, Carmichael Xavier Brackenshaver combines a variety of personal and behavioral attributes that must at least be adjudged unusual. The name, of course, bears not the slightest similarity to the one that appears on his baptismal records - if such exist. In a fit of unaccustomed candor he once admitted to me that he had felt it wise to change his name as part of a scheme to muddy the trail for some people who earnestly sought him. And, having changed it once, saw no particular reason to revert to the earlier form, just because that one particular jeopardy had passed. No doubt he felt there would be others.
Truth to tell, I had been a personal participant in that hair-raising misadventure alluded to above.
What it all came down to was some deep-seated animosities that grew out of his failure to deliver a semi-trailer load of Colombian marijuana to its Cuban purchaser. It seems that Ceex was busily enroute with the illicit smoking materials, when several patrol cars full of state police decided they would like to inspect his cargo.
In furtherance of this objective they set up several roadblocks, augmented by radio communications and lots of shotguns. On hearing of these plans over his own radio in the truck, and since the cargo had already been paid for, he had no hesitation in abandoning the rig, and seeking tranquillity in more tolerant regions.
As an indication of his personal probity, he assured me that he did notify the disappointed buyer of the events leading up to the loss of his cargo. He also provided him with the name and address of the Georgia State Police Headquarters, where - if he was inclined to do so - restitution of the merchandise or financial amends could be sought. All of this was done by mail, he tells me. The return address on the envelope was prudently omitted, as one might expect in such stressful circumstances.
"Ceex, pronounced "seeks", as he wishes to be addressed, first came to my attention in the Guanacaste Bar, in San Pedro Sula’s principal hostelry. The events were singular to say the least. It seems that his hand had been unaccountably found well inside the underpants of one of the servant girls. The noisy protests of the wench had touched off a great row, as first the bartenders and then some busybodv frequenters of the place joined in the verbal affray.
The misunderstanding, as Ceex explained its, grew out of his lack of familiarity with either the language of the land or our local customs:
He had ordered a drink and proffered a hundred-dollar bill in payment. The waitress took it along with her, and was gone for some appreciable period of time. In due course, Ceex was constrained to leave his table and repair to the men’s facilities, in response to an urgent call of nature. As he emerged from the sanitary station and stepped into the darkened hallway, he observed his missing waitress in the process of tucking several folded bills up under the nether margin of her skimpy, tightly-fitted panty uniform.
Returning to his table, he finished his drink and decided to leave. But his change was still owing, and it struck him that $100.00 was an excessive price to pay for a J&B with water. As he pondered this, his waitress did return - to serve drinks to the adjoining table. As she bent over to distribute the several glasses, Ceex decided to help himself to his change. Having noted the unique location of the traveling cash-register (in his observation of the activity in the restroom corridor) he went right in after ninety-seven dollars and fifty cents less fifty cents for a tip.
As his searching fingers probed the sensitive areas of the publicly forbidden zone, the young woman shrieked, dumped her customers’ tray of drinks over their heads and leaped - or levitated - straight up on top of their table. The tranquillity of the place deteriorated rapidly thereafter.
Suffice it to say that, recognizing a countryman in some degree of extremis, I gratuitously interjected myself into the ruckus as a kind of honest broker; arranging apologies for wounded sensibilities here, while adjusting the sprains and fractures of breached social decorum there. Change from the hundred-dollar bill was immediately forthcoming. (The delay, it turned out, had been occasioned by the necessity of sending a messenger up to a top-floor counting-room for the requisite funds).
With these now in hand, Ceex gave the unhappy victim of his digital invasion a ten dollar tip - for which price he could likely have, anytime after sundown, gone over her terrain the way Patton explored Germany. He gave a similar amount to the bartender, bought a round of drinks for the drenched customers and left the balance of the money on their table to cover cleaning bills and assuage wounded pride. I then began edging us toward the door, while energetically wishing one and all a good morrow. I steered Ceex out of the place through a solid phalanx of bared teeth and growling sounds.
Sharing a contretemps of this sort leaves in its wake a sense of confraternity well understood by wounded war veterans and safari members. We decided to marinate our newfound association in old viands and fresh conversation. My initial curiosity about the man gave way to amazement and, in due course, edged tentatively in the direction of friendship, as I learned the details of his unfortunate beginnings and later triumphs.
Ceex, I soon discovered, is an unlikely embodiment of much of the preachments of Horatio Alger. Abandoned in near-infancy by a faithless mother who ran off with a circus juggler, the unwanted child was bounced from official agency to official agency until - in due course - he took the reins of life into his own juvenile hands and ran away to seek his own destiny.
All of the usual menial tasks fell his lot, from shiner of shoes, to washer of dishes. From news-butcher to used-car salesman. With none of the honors to be found in academia, but trading on a rich experience gleaned from the streets and alleys of a clutch of small towns and teeming cities, Ceex soon outdid even the rosiest prognostications of Mr. Alger. When the Georgia marijuana caper went awry, prompting his flight from the outstretched arms of southern law, he was not seriously inconvenienced, it seems to me.
He arrived in Honduras with only the clothes on his back, as the saying goes. But he was driving the latest and largest Cadillac El-Dorado, and towing the most opulent model of the then-current Air-Stream motor home. In the trunk of the Cadillac he carried a half-gallon of frozen blackberries a shoe-horn, four gross of buttonhooks, and $9,664,400.00 in cash - all of which was well concealed behind the upholstery.
Understand that this information came to me in bits and pieces, over a protracted period of time, all following in train on the events detailed earlier in said Guanacaste Bar. From that day until this, we have remained friends if not familiars. We have met often for food and drink, conversation and some livelier engagements. We seem to augment each other's abilities to a remarkable extents, as you shall see. The passage of a few more years will, I hope, enable me to recount some of the more heroic of our mutual undertakings, for the edification and enlightenment of coming generations of social adventurers.
For now, perforce, civil strictures and the somber shadows of libel laws keep me on a short expository tether. In spite of these harsh realities, and with some hopefully understandable trepidation, I have decided to recount the story that follows. After all, the imperative of a writer is to write. The truly annointed writer has no real choice in the matter.
"Ceex," I said, as he slumped into a chair across from me, "you look unwell. Can it be that things are going badly, or even worse than badly, in your private world?" He ignored my question and ordered a drink from the slovenly waitress that hovered nearby. I tried again.
"It appears that you may have lately been the found target of many slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," I probed gently. He eyed me in dejection and propped his head up on a vertical forearm.
"Damn these crazy, stupid, superstitious, screwed-up, freaked-out, misbegotten bunch of imbecilic, bubble-headed, moronic bastards!" He intoned these words with the soft nuances of a priest reciting mass.
"Ummm." I evaluated. "Then you have found a lump in the oatmeal of life. Mayhap I could serve some useful purpose as a sounding-board for your bitterness. It is well understood that 'talking it out' is among the most efficacious agents for the healing of psychic wounds. "Catharsis" is the name by which its devotees and practitioners know it; and it has made millionaires out of unnumbered psychologists, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, marriage- and sex-counselors - most of whom would be considered mere peeping-Toms under any other set of circumstances."
"I've got to talk to someone," he admitted morosely as he watched a large green fly make airborne circles around the rim of his glass. "It might as well be you."
"Then proceed." I told him. "So long as the barrels and bottles in this establishment do not run dry, consider my ears open receptacles for your troubles."
He began haltingly at first, and then with increasing vigor and improved continuity, as he warmed to the narration. As he delineated the circumstances of his frustration, I unobtrusively made notes - to which he raised no objection. (One of the risks inherent in consorting with a writer is that of awaking one morning to find your darkest secrets publicly revealed in the penny press. But Ceex seemed beyond caring.)
"You remember Tina," he asked me needlessly.
I did indeed remember Tina! Jet black hair that hung almost to her waist, blue-green eyes, a clear light olive skin that drew heavily on the accumulated beauty of Barcelona and Madrid, and built from a happy co-joining of the same design inspirations that gave us Venus deMilo, Raquel Welch, Polaris submarines, supersonic aircraft and Marilyn Monroe. At my first laying eyes on her, I decided to abandon scrivening entirely, in favor of giving over the tag-end of my life to an uninterrupted career in love and lechery.
It was only after I had an opportunity to see how single-mindedly smitten she was with Ceex, that I decided to not permanently surrender my typewriter to the pawnbroker - and, instead, purchased another ribbon and a full ream of paper.
"Wel1, Tina won’t see me any more," he almost wailed.
"Good God, why not?" I postulated, almost dropping my glass, which Ceex took as a signal to order another round. "I thought you two had joined hands to symbolically walk into the setting sun. She adores you! She would wither in a week without your near presence. She would fight, kill, or be killed for you. Won’t see you? How can this be?"
(At the risk of revealing a chink in my armor of habitual modesty in such things, let it be now be acknowledged that your author is not without a certain urbane charisma - combined with a measure of physical attractiveness and animal magnetism - that the female of our species has often been hard put to ignore. If written and unwritten laws relating to personal privacy were suddenly repealed, a detailing of my personal victories on the battlegrounds of love would make a chronicle of some substance - and no small interest to aficianados of such exploits usually carried out in milady’s boudoir.
In spite of this, Tina had on one well-remembered occasion, responded to my investigative pat on her exquisite backside, by stomping my instep with such vigor as to keep me confined to quarters for the better part of a week. What more acid-test of true love, than the out-of-hand rejection of an exploratory sally by another presentable and potential suitor? That Ceex had captured her heart, with all of the other beguiling equipment that makes up the complete toy-set was - to my pragmatic turn of mind - was beyond debate. She was his! I would have drawn the deed.
"Well, get on with it, Ceex," I urged, impatient to learn the details. At that moment the serving wench again arrived with our freshened libations.
"Look here, my friend, " I interjected before he could resume, "this saga shows signs of becoming a magnum opus. Why don't we got a flagon and some ice, and retire to one of those booths, where you can unravel your dilemma without the confounded interruptions of these lackeys. If you want my counsel, I must be able to reconstruct the affair in train. All of these ill-fitting bits and pieces are putting my head in such a dither that I’m having trouble following your exposition."
He endorsed the program. Only after we had removed ourselves to a booth, and with the tools of refreshment between us, did he resume.
"It's superstition!" he declared. "Pure superstition! How can people - especially Tina - believe such bullshit?"
"Come, come," I chided gently. "Coarse language is hardly called for in the telling of a tale about a beautiful girl. Why don't you just begin at the beginning and tell me what occurred. Then, when you have finished, we can go back and analyze the salient elements in a logical fashion. I’m sure there is a solution to any lovers' quarrel. But first you must apprise me of the circumstances. Will you please proceed, Sir. Spare me nothing that you consider significant."
He drained off half a glass of the amber-colored fluid like a man on the way to the gallows, and told me the story almost precisely as I shall set it down. Only the more robust expletives have been recast to protect the sensibilities of those who might be put off by such coarseness on the printed page.
"As you know," Ceex began, "I have been dating Tina steadily for several months. Everything has been going fine. No fights. No problems. We have seen every movie in this town since I began going with her. I've taken her to nice restaurants, bought her a bunch of pretty clothes, gave her money to go to the beauty shop, get manicures, pedicures, even to have her teeth looked after, for Christ's sake!"
I nodded in complete and totally deserved agreement. While at times presenting himself as the near-antithesis of careful grooming, Ceex is a stickler for fastidiousness in his feminine consorts.
"You may remember that I set her mother up in business." (Once more I was constrained to agree. He had., indeed, financed a candle-dipping cottage industry for Tina’s mother, and that had since flourished. Two of Tina’s younger siblings were also engaged in the enterprise, as wax-melter and wick-trimmer, respectively, as I recall.)
"As our relationship warmed up, so did she - until one night I got her to come back to the trailer-house with me." His eves glowed in the remembrance. "It took a while, but she ended up staying all night. It was fantastic!
"How much did she charge you?" I wanted to know.
"Charge me?" he exploded. "Nothing! What do you think she is, a whore?" He bit off the last word like it was a piece of steel.
"Forgive me, Ceex," I hastened to apologize. "If I have exceeded the bounds of friendly propriety, I am truly sorry. But we are men of the world and in this city in which we find ourselves, the likelihood of such short-term accommodations transpiring without the passage of some monetary consideration is so remote as to have completely passed me by." I poured for each of us by way of atonement, and urged him to go on.
"Well, after that first night, it was all downhill. Each night I would pick her up at work and we would drive someplace. Sometimes we would go have a couple of drinks. Other times we would maybe drive up into the hills, and just sit there and talk. Then I’d take her home to bathe and change clothes, and we'd go out again. Maybe to a show. Or to dinner, and then someplace to dance. She dances like an angel!"
("Angel" is not the word I would choose to describe her terpsichorean abilities, but love finds its own descriptives.) I distinctly hark back to an evening we shared in a public house called "Dante's Inferno". At one point in the festivities Tina had accepted my invitation to the floor - only after specific approval from Ceex, I ruefully add. The music was a tango which., of all the Latin rhythms, is my clear favorite and, I might add, one that has garnered an impressive collection of compliments for me from appreciative partners.
As Tina and I took to the floor I quickly learned to my dismay that there were any number of things about the tango that had not previously come to my attention. Just holding Tina to me was an experience to be long remembered; what with her mind-boggling assortment of protuberances and concavities inciting my jaded senses into sudden and vibrant response. It seemed that she also began warm to our proximity, no doubt also augmented by the stimulus of my almost-professional lead.
Her eyes came to burn like a pair of her mother's candles, as she grasped me more tightly than is either necessary or recommended. With her magnificent body pressed against me in such a way as to make the mere act of breathing a conscious effort, I soon became vividly aware of a whole bouquet of added events.
Demonstration proved that the remarkable young woman had the ability to move the several general areas of her anatomy in a manner of complete independence from all others: While undulating her rib-cage and its glorious attachments from side-to-side, her pelvic girdle maintained an unbroken circular rotation that, impossible of decent description, nevertheless reduced me to a near-frenzy of carnal delight.
Noting my obvious discomfiture, I am convinced that she only redoubled her efforts during the final moments of our number. With difficulty, I made what was hopefully, an unobserved escape from the dance floor. I have never sought a repeat engagement with Tina from that day, to this.)
"Forgive my distraction, Ceex,," I remarked. "I was wool-gathering. Please proceed with your exposition."
"Like I said, everything was just great. I was teaching her some English, and she was helping me with my Spanish. We were together every day - and a lot of the nights."
"On those nights when you were not together," I queried, "do you have any idea how she might have spent the unoccupied time?" His lip curled in a rage-fueled snarl.
"Forgive me, my friend," I stammered in quick effort to make amends. "It is a question that must be asked. As we both know, from our treasury of mature experience, the possibility of female constancy in this sinkhole of corruption and debauchery is so minuscule as to have totally escaped my consideration. You must indulge me. I am merely attempting to unearth the roots of your tragedy." I ceremoniously poured each of us a small dollop of friendship and he went on.
"Everything was perfect until one night about two weeks ago."
"What does all of this have to do with superstition?" I broke in, impatient for the kernel of discord that had presumably precipitated the onset of their interpersonal difficulties.
"I'm coming to that. On this particular night when the trouble happened, I picked her up at work - just like always.''
"I seem to disremember her field of endeavor, Ceex. Can you refresh me. It may prove important."
"She works as a zipper-checker in the trouser factory - out by the TEXACO plant." (Ah, yes, I did remember. She had given me that information on the night we had tangoed together. At the time I had some witticism at the ready, but that I decided to forego. Zipper-checker. It did come back to me.)
"Well, I picked her up at the factory and we came into town for cocktails. It was a beautiful night,, and she said she felt like a big celebration. This was fine with me. I had spent the whole damned day working a monster jug-saw puzzle, and was ready for some activity. We stopped by the Gran Sula hotel for a couple of drinks."
"I thought you were barred from that establishment for life, after the unpleasantness in which I first laid eyes on you."
"They changed managers, and that particular waitress married a bush-pilot. The old trouble is completely forgotten." I took his smile as an indication of his pleasure with this turn of events, so I congratulated him. It was nice to know that he had regained acceptability in one of the city's principal watering spots. He picked up the tag-end of his story.
"We left the hotel early and drove to her house, where she got a shower and changed clothes. We went to the Chalet Suiza for dinner." (The restaurant he named is perfectly acceptable. My personal preference, however, leans toward the "Touche’ - operated by a renegade Nicaraguan who is probably a fugitive from well-deserved justice and a score of cuckolded husbands in as many countries. But he cooks like an angel. No matter. Everyone has personal tastes in food, not to mention other things.)
"We had dinner and then started some night-clubbing. I know we started out at the Chez Paree. From there it was the Scorpio, and two or three others I'm not too sure about. The last place was The Subway.
(Dear me! The Subway! How well I remember the night Ceex and I had taken that place by storm. After several hours of unrestrained hi-jinks, we had fled into the night with a brace of their exotic dancers. Our idea was to find a place where they might provide us with a private showing of their more esoteric accomplishments. One of the ladies strongly recommended a motel on the edge of the city that was, she told us, managed by her brother.
This hardly seemed to be the most propitious arrangement for the evening's game plan, but her salesmanship ultimately proved to be overwhelming. We presented ourselves to the greeter of said institution, were assigned a suite of modest amenities but acceptable dimensions, and left to our own devices. In due course, as might be imagined, lusty company spawned rough engagements.
The ladies insisted on keeping the premises well-lit, which also squared with my inclinations: Clothes and wallets always seem to be more secure if one can occasionally cast a glance at them, hanging over the back of a chair. In any case, after a rousing time in which the full company had joined most enthusiastically, a commotion outside the window prompted me to move quietly into the night to investigate.
A modest throng was gathered around our windows. The ruckus that attracted my attention was occasioned by two amateur cameramen jockeying for a presumed vantage point. It developed that the brother of the dancer who had steered us to the hot-pillow emporium, had been selling tickets. Ah, perfidy! Exotic dancers have never been able to gain my complete confidence, from that infamous incident forward.)
"We stayed in The Subway until they closed it - about two-thirty in the morning, I think. Anyway, it was late," Ceex went on. "We were tired, and I wanted something to eat - and some coffee. We came back to the Gran Sula hotel, because the coffee shop is open twenty-four hours a day." He poured a couple of fingers into each of our glasses and motioned the waitress to bring more ice.
"I had a bottle of J&B in a paper bag, so I was set to sleep anywhere. Sitting in the coffee shop, Tina told me she would like for us to spend the night in the hotel. She said she had never done it. " I'm sure my brow wrinkled in clear evidence of my utter disbelief, but Ceex didn’t notice it, I didn't interrupt him.
"I called a bellboy, gave him a C-note and told him to go get me a nice room for the night. He come back in a hurry to escort us to the elevator and then show us up to the suite. It was nice. Two big rooms with a big bed, an outside balcony, air-conditioning. It was okav! Tina was walking around looking at the pictures and running her hands over the upholstering on the furniture. She likes stuff like that.
"Well, you know how it is," he offered reticently. "Pretty soon we went to bed. Everything was fine. Everything was just fine!"
"Go on, Man!" I admonished him. "You can speak frankly with me!"
"Well, there we were in bed, and pretty soon we were fu…"
"Hold it!" I shouted. "There are no less than three dozen synonyms in the English language, for the act you now wish to name. Can't you select one with a tad more euphony?"
"Sorry," he said. "Well, it wasn't long until we were -- ah - having at it" He looked at me for approval, which I withheld. "Having at it" - indeed! After an awkward moment, he decided to get on with the tale.
"Well, you know how it is with Tina." (I don’t, but I would trade a sound tooth to find out.) "She gets pretty excited aboaut things. The lights were on and we were real busy." He paused to pour himself another drink. "I just can't tell you what it was like!"
"Try, Ceex!" I urged him. "For the love of God, TRY!"
Well, suddenly everything was ready," He glanced up to see if I had caught the significance of his idiom. "Then it happened, and it was just in-credible!"
"It always is," I offered.
"But this time it was different!" he declared earnestly. "The whole goddam world moved. The hotel trembled! Pictures swung on the walls. There was a big roaring in my ears, furniture slid back and forth across the room. I swear, I heard a siren begin wailing. Car horns blowing in the street. Tina was screaming. I thought I was going crazy, or gonna die. The lights in the room blinked a few times and then went out completely - all by themselves."
What were you drinking, did you say?" I asked.
"J&B with water. It's all I ever drink if I can get it."
"We’ve simply must change your brand," I pontificated. "But please go on."
"Everything was awful quiet for a while. We just laid there in the darkness and held each other up real close. Nobody said anything. I don't even think we were breathing. Then it started again. We could hear the furniture moving. The bed shook so hard it almost threw us out on the floor. It was just plain damn spooky! Terrifying!!"
"I've read of these so-called super-orgasms, Ceex," I replied. "I have not seen them specifically endorsed by qualified investigators in anything we could consider a scholarly journal, but Plaboy is full of the subject. If what you tell me is true, you have had an experience that is vouchsafed but few of us mortals. I congratulate you, Sir. It couldn't happen to a more deserving candidate!!"
His brow furrowed in obvious anguish.
"But it wasn't that at all," he countered, "even though that's what I thought it was, at the time."
"If not a super-orgasm, then what?" I wanted to know. "The phenomena you have described - fortunately - do not ordinarily attend sexual conjunction, insofar as I have heard of or experienced it."
"It was the earthquake" Ceex intoned slowly and with studied emphasis. "It was that lousy, rotten, freaking Guatemala earthquake! That's what was shaking the place to pieces and blew the lights out." He waited while his information settled in on me.
"Of course! Of course!" I rejoined. "The Guatemala 'quake - two weeks ago yesterday, if memory serves correctly. And a real tail-shaker, if I may say so. Did a God’s plenty of damages both in and around its epicenter - and clear across the isthmus, into Honduras," I added, as the events of that night settled in on me.
"Well, I finally realized what it was," Ceex picked up the thread of his story. "We jumped out of the bed and were scrambling around in the dark, trying to find some clothes. Of course we couldn't find anything. In the meantime, Tina has run out onto the balcony - and she’s yelling her head off about all of us going to be killed - and promising God at the top of her lungs that, if he lets her off just this once, she won't ever fu – eh - eh -- won't sleep with me any more.
"I grabbed her arm and tried to pull her back inside, but she just yelled that much louder. Flashlights started pointing up at us from the street, then a searchlight from a police car really it us up, as everybody down below was trying to figure out who was getting killed up on our balcony. It was hell!"
"Obviously a highly traumatic experience." I concurred. "But you still haven't enlightened me on the initial topic of interest. Just what does all of this push-and-tuggery have to do with superstition? I don't seem to be following you as well as I would like."
"Like I told you, Tina is out on the balcony screaming her head off: Talking to God! She promises Him that if he just lets her off this once, she is never gonna get in the sack with me again - or even talk to me! All that kinda crap!"
"Tut, tut, my boy," I chided him, "keep your language genteel and get on with it. I'm beginning to see a flickering light at the end of your Stygian tunnel. Please continue!"
With a huge gulp, he took off a third of his glass and resumed.
"Finally I managed to quiet her down and talked her back into the room. Things stopped shaking, and I found the half-full bottle of scotch we had carried along with us. We sat down on the floor in the dark and emptied it. Then we went back to bed and slept ‘til morning."
"And how did she feel about your relationship in the bright light of a new day?" I inquired.
"Just the same. She didn't hardly eat any breakfast at all. Just sat there all scrunched up in a corner of the booth, carefully explaining to me how God had caused an earthquake to tell her that I’m bad news. Can you imagine? She was spouting Sunday School lessons at me for a solid hour.
"Then she asked me to take her home. She shook my hand at the door - can you imagine this? - and I haven't seen her since." When I go to her house her mother or one of the kids tell me she's not there. I've waited for her at the factory gate but she’s not going to work these days, either. I don't know what to do." He sat peering into his glass like it was a crystal ball. Then he picked it up and dumped its contents down at a single draught.
"Certainly you have a problem., Ceex", I agreed gently. "However, in affairs of the heart it is my lifelong experience that unless great damage has been inflicted on one, by the other, 'another chance' is always well within the scope of hopeful expectation. Earthquakes do not qualify as 'wrongs' to be ordered up and delivered by mere mortals. In other words, you can't fairly be held responsible for it. Neither can she. Let me think on this thing, with a firm intention of augmenting your faltering efforts at reconciliation,"
"I'd pay a thousand dollars a minute for a one-hour talk with her in the public square, " Ceex declared morosely. "If she would just give me a chance to talk with her...."
"Nonsense, my friend," I cautioned him. "this is not like buying an Airstream Trailer or a buttonhook factory." He visibly winced at that recollection. "In issues such as these, a go-between is both prudent and honorable. Recall, if you will, the yeoman service performed by John Alden in resolving a somewhat similar communications problem for one Captain John Smith."
"As I remember the story, Alden wound up with the chick ," he answered out of deep dejection.
"A mere quirk of fate, and without application in the instant matter," I assured him. "In any case, Alden had no great difficulty in arranging an appointment. You should hope that I meet with equal success. For, truth to tell, dear Ceex., until that detail is properly surmounted you may have your mail forwarded to the State of Limbo."
He divided the dregs of the bottle evenly between our respective glasses. (I have always known Ceex to be meticulously fair in matters of small moment, which limited virtue he shares with most of us.) He drained his glass and looked into my face for reassurance.
"Leave me to wrestle with your demon overnight" I told him. "In the meantime, I would like to have your complete confidence and one-hundred American dollars to cover unforeseen contingencies." He unquestioningly removed not one, but three crisp one-hundred dollar bills from his wallet and laid them on the table before me.
"What do you intend to do?"
"I'm not the least bit sure at this juncture," I admitted. "Whatever it turns out to be, rest assured it will be in your own best interests as I discern them to be." I drained my glass, retrieved my straw and headed for the door. Ceex followed closely behind me.
Don't you want me to go with you?" he inquired plaintively.
"By no means," I told him. "This appears to be the kind of situation that calls for a high order of guile, unsullied by the merest drop of emotion. Just your presence could impair what may otherwise prove to be my most brilliant coup de coeur in a long and speckled career of marginal venturing. I would suggest that you lay in a large stock of jig-saw puzzles, Jackstraws, and back issues of National Geographic. Hopefully these items will keep you harmlessly occupied until I have had an opportunity to find a loose turn in your Gordian knot.
"When will you be back in touch with me?"
"God knows, Ceex," I told him frankly. "When I have a course of action for you to follow. Or when I have determined that your cause is hopeless. Or when your three-hundred dollars runs out. Whichever occurs first, I should say." He gave me a wistful smile that was, I hope, intended to signify confidence in his surrogate. We went our separate ways.
The same animals I had observed earlier again overtook and passed me as I strode up the sidewalk. Only this time the dog was in the lead, pursued by a visibly overwrought cat. Both were moving at a brisk walk. I puzzled over this anomaly until the obvious explanation caught my eye: The dog was now in possession of both his and the cat's water-bags.
Hot weather, it occurred to me - not for the first time, brings out the worst personality features of both man and beast. I went directly to the hotel where I was residing while my residential lodgings were being renovated. I paused only once enroute, to acquire a flagon of the internationally celebrated aid to critical analysis, that carries the proud label of Chivas Regal and the number "12" proudly emblazoned below it.
After a fretful night of cogitation on the inscrutability of female thought processes, and a variety of ruses calculated to build a bridge across them, I arose at dawn to make my toilet and prepare for activation of the program I had settled on. Room Service was given the task of fetching my morning repast, after which I dispatched a bellboy to a local department store to purchase, on my behalf, two cheap wristwatches and a miniature transistor radio.
To insure his return, I relayed my instructions to him in the presence of the landlord - and took his younger sister into close custody. (She was, when not standing as hostage to her sibling’s honesty, serving in the capacity of cleaning wench on one of the upper floors.)
In due course the stripling returned with my merchandise and proper sales slips for the acquisitions. I tipped him five lempiras for his exertions and ordered the release of his kinswoman from the broom-closet where I had impounded her. She seemed grateful for her liberation, in a sullen sort of way. Next I hailed a hack at the front door and gave the driver instructions for reaching the candle-works.
After an excruciating and circuitous trip over streets that appeared to have been graded with jack-hammers and hand grenades, we rattled to a stop. Indeed, we were in front of a somewhat familiar genre’ of unpainted, two-story, lumber structure that stood as a dreary example of what can happen when you cross-breed a house with a barn. After instructing the operator to wait for my return, I cautiously picked my way through the remains of what had once been a wooden sidewalk - and was now a mantrap.
Reaching the open door, I peered inside. Long tables stood in ranks throughout the open work area, attended by an assortment of urchins of varying ages. Each table team seemed busily engaged in the placement of lengths of string inside metal tubes and cylinders of various shapes and sizes. In the far corner of the arena, several people in full black aprons were busily removing quantities of smoking fluid from a large cauldron and, with their long-handled ladles, filling the molds into which the strings had previously been affixed.
My appearance elicited some giggling from several of the girls nearest the doorway, then spread to the pouring sector, and prompted a lad of perhaps a dozen years to detach himself from his labors and come to inquire my business. I asked him if he had a sister named Tina, which supposition he confirmed.
"I should be much obliged to have a private word with her, " I said.
"She ain't talking to any strangers," he replied.
"I am, I assure you, no stranger to her," I declared. "On the contrary, I may indeed be one of the best friends she has in this alien and unfriendly universe."
"I don’t know what you're talking about." he answered, expertly spitting out the door for emphasis, "but I know she ain’t gonna to talk to you."
"Would you then be so kind as to take Tina a gift for me?"
"I’m busy," the urchin declaimed in a nasal whine. "Anyway, she doesn't want to talk to anybody!"
Opening my portmanteau, I removed the transistor radio and one of the watches. "Look," I said, "I will give you this watch, if you will take this radio to Tina and tell her that Don Guillermo would like to speak to her for a moment or two." He grabbed the two items from my hands and raced up a side stairway. He was back in no time, with the watch securely affixed to his wrist.
"She said thank you for the radio. She ain’t comin’ down. Thank you for the watch, too. Now I have to get back to work." He turned and scurried through the ranks of tables and back to his post.
This turn of events, although disappointing. was not entirely unexpected. A good general expects vicissitudes - and prepares for them. I now removed the second watch from my case, and held it up to the light as if to examine it. A dozen of the waifs working at the tables nearby halted their operations to gaze at the shiny trinket with eyes overflowing with avarice. I crooked a finger at one of them. Sheapproached me timidly, a finger in her mouth.
"Is Tina’s mother here?" I asked the child.
"She's upstairs," she replied. Reaching into my pocket., I removed a new fifty-lempira bill and carefully tore it into two halves. The girl’s eyes widened in disbelief. I handed her one portion of the torn bill.
"I want you to take this up to Tina’s mother. Take it to Tina’s mother! Tell her that I will give her the other half of the bill if she will come down and talk to me. Do you understand?" She repeated my-instructions almost verbatim. "And this watch," I said, handing it to her, "is for you - for giving my message to Tina’s mother." She grabbed the timepiece and almost flew up the staircase. In something like sixty seconds I observed a woman of middle years descending the stairs.
"How can I help you?" she asked tersely, after I had introduced myself.
"I wish to talk with you about the problems my friend Ceex and your daughter Tina are having," I opened. "Of course you know about their difficulty."
"I know," she stated flatly, "that Tina isn't going to see him any more. She got a sign"
"A sign?" I asked quizzically. "I’m afraid I don't understand."
"The earthquake! You think that is not a sign? God told Tina to stay away from that man. They made God plenty mad! She's not going to see him any more!" She seemed ready to terminate the exchange and leave me standing. I dangled the second half of the torn bill in my fingers. She looked at it and visibly changed her mind.
"I agree it was a sign, but I'm afraid you are interpreting it wrongly," I countered thoughtfully. She waited for me to continue.
"There are good signs and there are bad signs. You know that. Have you thought that the earthquake could have been God telling Tina and Ceex that he was happy they had found each other?" Her eyes narrowed in evaluation of this possibility..
"No she said after a long pause. "I don't think that. I think it was a bad sign."
"Tell me, Madam," I said gently, fearful of the no-man’s land I was starting to cross., "was Ceex the first man Tina ever made love with?" She studied my face unflinchingly.
"No. There have been others." She looked down at the worn floor boards in clear despondency. "In this place kids get started young - too young! Tina wasn't any different. She was in the streets from the time she could walk. I'm a poor woman, and alone. Nothing I could do about it. I had to make a living for her and the others"
"I understand that," I agreed in my most soothing tone. "But why weren't there any earthquakes when Tina was with those others?" She showed signs of wavering; my cue for the frontal assault.
"I’ll tell you why, Madam! Those other times were wrong. That's why! But God overlooked those other times. They just weren't very important!" She was all attention and thinking hard, as I pressed the advantage. "But with Ceex, that was different! God looked down and saw them together and he was happy about that. He knows that Ceex loves Tina, and Tina loves Ceex. That's what makes it different. That's what makes it right!" I drew a deep breath and closed in for the coup de grace.
"God saw what was going on and he said, 'I'm going to give that girl a sign that this time she's found the right man for her!’ So he pushed his finger down through the clouds and just sort of tickled the ground. That was the earthquake! --Now, what do you think? Now, what kind of a sign do you think Tina and Ceex got?"
It was quiet for what seemed like a very long time. Then she invited me upstairs. When I subsequently returned to waiting transport, the driver was sound asleep in the back seat.
On returning to my quarters, I went directly to the phone and called Ceex in his digs atop the city's tallest structure. (For a man with such earthy tastes, his insistence on residing as far above the mortal throng as construction technology permits strikes me as passing strange.)
As invariably happens in this benighted settlement, the operator failed repeatedly in her efforts to obtain a line for my use. I stridently emphasized the urgency of my case on her and replaced the instrument in its cradle as a brisk exclamation point. Then I measured a liberal serving of the celebrated Chivas Regal jubilee juice into a tumbler and sat down to reward myself for performance far above the call of reasonable duty - and well beyond the outer limits of any sensible expectation. My solitary testimonial ceremony was interrupted by the jangling of Mr. Bell’s electronic curse on a defenseless humanity.
"Don Guillermo’s secretary speaking," I lied in falsetto into the instrument. (I have found this to be a useful ploy in event a given call emanates from a creditor or some other gadfly bent on harassment. In this case it was Ceex, so I asked him to wait. After a decent interval to accomplish my supposed summons, I spoke again in my accustomed richly vibrant baritone.)
"Did you see Tina?" were his first words. "Will she talk to me?"
"Patience, Lad, patience! Great issues are not resolved in a trice, as Rome was not built in a day! This logjam of misunderstanding must be loosened with delicacy and care. I'm working at it. In the meantime, I fret for your well-being and peace of mind. Tell me, how are you?"
"Going nuts!" he replied in anguish. ‘What have you found out? Where is Tina? Did you get to talk to her?"
(Much as I abhorred having to engage in mendacious conduct with my disadvantaged friend, the role I had written for myself in this affair had brought its own burden of responsibility. While not a practicing religionist in any fashion that might make sense to a western mind, I had, nonetheless, made bold to ascribe certain elements of direct intent to whatever power it is that stages earthquakes.
I shall vehemently deny any personal proclivities toward black-magic, voodoo, or similar stone-age superstitions, but - if one believes in earthquakes - and I do - then the possibility that both earthquakes and lightning are handled in the same celestial department can not be prudently overlooked.
As a matter of justifiable self-protection from retributive contingencies, however remote, I felt it incumbent upon me to hedge my culpability with a careful assay of Ceex's intentions and true ardor, anent the lady in the case. In a phrase, if he was merely dallying with Tina, I had no intention of serving as the catspaw. The procedures for separating the bright metal of true love from the dross of mere dalliance called for my dealing Ceex some crooked cards. But I saw no alternative. My brilliant dramatic success had spun the web for my own entrapment.)
"All things in good time, dear Ceex," I parried his impatience. "For the nonce let us say that certain steps have been taken. Certain feints and parries have begun to disclose the vulnerabilities of our adversary. In a word, esteemed Ceex, Tina is adamant. So all we can do is bide our time and seek ways to scale the tower of her aloofness. The siege is best left in my hands. In due course, Mars willing, we will win the day." He breathed heavily in my ear.
"In the meantime, good Ceex, I deplore your state of depression and perchance even morosity. It is neither productive nor healthy for a man of your established rutting instincts to be so long deprived of the special attentions and rejuvenative titillation of the fairer sex. The carnal appetite can not be denied satiety at reasonable intervals, Ceex, except at the risk of hiccups, heartburn, dental caries and extreme sleeplessness." He made no effort to interrupt.
"Purely out of consideration for your mental and physical health, I have made certain arrangements for the evening that are calculated to restore you to the bloom of vitality and good cheer that are hallmarks of your inherent personality. Tonight, dear Ceex, we shall once more be modern re-embodiments of the mythical satyrs that delighted the maids of ancient Greece. Tonight, my friend, our woes of whatever stripe shall be laid on the shelf of forgetfulness, as we cavort and trifle with amusements begun in the Garden of Eden,- and passed intact to us through unbroken generations of unrepentant libertines.
Tonight, Ceex, will be an exercise in lechery worthy of inscribing on bronze tablets and placing in a Smithsonian time-capsule. I guarantee it, and I ask you, have you ever found me guilty of overstating the potentials of a soiree that I have personally arranged?"
"I just don't feel like screwing around." he answered dejectedly. "I just want to see Tina."
"Life is an exercise in the possible," I reminded him. "Except for considerations of availability, close your eyes and subtle distinctions of one partner in lust disappear in the more pervading sensations of tactile stimulation. In truth, as you well know, all women are blood-sisters of Queen Elizabeth. Nature planned it that ways so no man of us need feel deprived, excluded, or shortchanged in the fleshly marketplace."
"I used to think that way, too," Ceex opined., "but it's different now - ever since I met Tina."
"Ye Gods, Man!" I exploded., "Have you turned in your lecher's card? Has this wisp of a girl turned you into a self-emasculated eunuch? Where is your pride of manhood? Where is the Ceex of yore, who could electrify public house or bordello alike - at whim - by merely appearing on the premises with his four top shirt buttons undone, and splashed down with English Leather or Old Spice? Where is the Ceex I used to know?"
"I don't know," he answered quietly. "It’s just different now."
"Very well." I replied sharply. "But before you also take the veil and sign the pledge, may I impose on our firm friendship and unflinching mutual support in whatever brand of thick going, by asking one final favor of you?"
"Sure. You can have the trailer house," he offered without hesitation. (I had on several occasions remarked, perhaps too pointedly, about the potential utility I saw in such an opulent and functional peripatetic bedroom. The vistas of carnality that almost automatically spread before the possessor of such a vehicle are quite enough to boggle an imaginatively salacious mind. It could be that I had put these very sentiments into words. Frankly I do not recall. Nor is it germane. Ceex’s offer was noted with more than a twinge of covetousness.)
"I thank you, Ceex. Your generosity is touching, but this is not what I have in mind.."
"Well, what do you want, then," he inquired dispiritedly.
"I had looked forward to our shaking off the ashes of bleak despondency this evening, in the company of - to quote that great leader, Thomas Jefferson - "a pair of prize bitches." You peevishly choose to deprive us of this healthy indulgence. So, in lieu of the fleshly celebration in which I had hoped you would a full participate, will you do me the service of merely accompanying me - as I drink my way through the saloons of this city - in one gargantuan tribute to your notable past and your bleak future; as a self-committed prisoner within the gray walls of endlessly repetitive and totally requited love?"
"You want me to get drunk with you?" he asked without real interest.
"Not even that, Ceex. I just want you to observe, and perhaps keep a tally, as I get drunk enough for both of us! I hope that the sorry spectacle will serve to make you know the full depth of impact on others that can result when an established hedonist like yourself, abandons the paths of pleasure for the straight and narrow road of sterile behavioral rectitude! You shake the system, Ceex!! I tell you, there is more than your own selfish interests at stake here!"
"All right," he finally agreed. "Come by here when you're ready."
"No. I don't think that plan is advisable," I said. "Under your own roof-tree you could change your mind again - and have us spend the night playing Chinese Checkers and drinking decaffeinated coffee at your dining table. Why don't you meet me at Dante's Inferno at eight o'clock. You will be able to recognize me from the look of abject disappointment on my countenance, as I mourn the loss of a world class bounder, to the abstinent ranks of near-celibates and self-inflicted teetotalers." He agreed and we hung up.
The next several hours were among the most hectic and onerous I have spent in this lackadaisical land. With Ceex's masterful survival of the devil’s temptations I had spread before him, it now devolved upon me to direct preparation of the earthly arrangements, that the vice-angel in charge of earthquakes had only set in motion. I made another bone-shattering trip to the candle-works and relayed selected portions of my intelligence to Tina and her mother.
After a foreshortened strategy conference, we three sought out a store that specializes in enrobing Milady in whatever type of costume her current state of mind and the occasion requires. An eon was spent in tryings and fittings, with much running in and out of back rooms while I perched conspicuously and uncomfortably on a straight-backed chair designed for the unique structural requirements of an arthritic midget. My prayers for deliverance were ultimately answered: I signed the tickets for the ladies prodigality with Ceex's style - and my initials as his agent, below.
The next stop was a bootery, followed by a beauty shop, followed by a boutique, followed by a return to the beauty shop for a forgotten purse. It was at this juncture that I simulated my fainting spell. I do this routine quite convincingly for a new audience - after which I urged that we find a place for sustenance. The ladies ate like a pair of stevedores, and chattered like magpies. I gave unswerving attention to a series of Chivas Regals on the rocks that, in due course, made life bearable once more.
After a couple more stops for trivialities, I again deposited Tina and her mother at their manse-cum-candle-factory, and promised to pick them up again at seven-thirty sharp. Their enthusiasm for our conspiracy was highly contagious, but I managed to contract only a light case of it.
Dante’s Inferno, for those hardy souls who might find occasion to retrace our steps on that fateful night, strives mightily to be all things to all people; and on rare occasions comes close to succeeding. The drinks are penurious by my standards, but I find this to be an almost universal shortcoming.
Whenever I see a drink being prepared with a measuring glass, I know I have found a bartender who lacks confidence in his own judgment. Such an individual, it goes without saying, is unfit to be entrusted at any engagement as important as the dispensing of alcoholic beverages. But I digress.
By clever display of a ten-Lempira bill (folded to make it look like one-hundred) I obtained a table for us in the rear corner of the room. Importantly, it was located out of the direct line of fire of several monster loudspeakers that dispensed music at a decibel level only appropriate to the fortissimo passage in the Anvil Chorus. The dance floor (and the scene of my earlier undoing) was directly in front of our location, with the bar beyond that. An attractive nosegay of indigenous flowers filled a bowl in the middle of our table.
On one wall above us hung a surrealistic canvas that looked like its subject-matter might have been accumulated during a long morning spent performing radical stomach surgery. On the other side, a fluorescent-faced urchin peered down at me from a head the size of a grapefruit, inset with eyes as big as golf balls. Repelled by the artwork, I gave attention to the ladies.
Maria., the mother of Ceex's enamorata, had turned out far better than my first exposure to her had led me to expect. A magic act at the hairdressers had resulted in a coiffure befitting Queen Isabella., when she walked down to the dock and told Columbus it was time to go. It was piled high on her head and implanted with a white flower that did, I must admit, afford a striking contrast of both colors and form. A thin string of plain white beads - (pearls? I doubt it.) - accentuated the attractive lines of her throat and upper chest, well-displayed over the top of a low-cut green gown. She wore pendant earrings in her pierced ears and a single ring on her right hand. The effect was, I say again, most pleasing and no small surprise to me.
Tina? How does one set about describing a beautiful girl, flushed with the expectation of soon seeing the man she loves, and thought she had lost. Her black hair glistened as it framed her lovely face and fell over her snowy white, bare, and exquisitely molded shoulders. She wore no ornamentation except for a blood-red hibiscus blossom in her hair. But there were diamonds in her eyes, and her teeth were pearls, as the bromides go. And her laughter had the sound of tiny bells in it. Her ebony-black gown augmented the illusion that I was looking at an ingenious composite of all of the fabled beauties of ancient Spain. Whose smiles had launched armadas and fueled the explorations of half the world. She was nothing less than divine.
In another time and place, men would have built a shrine to her and worshipped her stone likeness. Any man who falls to understand this has never seen a perfect female specimen. Such an accomplishment is nature's ultimate achievement; no doubt set down to remind the rest of us of our general state of mediocrity.
True to appointment Ceex arrived a few minutes after the established hour. As he was being escorted across the floor by a waiter I had set to catch him, he espied us. He approached the table and stopped a few steps short. His eyes widened, but he said nothing. Then Tina arose like a queen to rush into his arms.
The spel1 that had entranced us was broken in a melange of words and disjointed exclamations, protestations and assurances that defy sensible repetition. The only intelligible thing I gleaned from the first several minutes of the reunion was Tina’s repeated exclamation "It was a good sign! Oh, Ceex, it was a good sign!!"
Maria and I engaged in our own small talk and allowed the pair of reunited lovers to conduct their own game of Twenty-Questions without benefit of auditors. The blaring of the music provided a sonic camouflage that could have, in any case, drowned out the bombardment of Fort Sumter. At last the musical selection proved to be a familiar tango. I invited Maria to dance with me and she graciously accepted.
As we took to the floor it was quickly apparent that my partner shared my enthusiasm for the silken mood of this king of Latin rhythms. She matched my movements with skillful grace, along with that indefinable something that marks the magic difference between a dancer - and someone who just keeps time to the music. Her pirouette lacked the clean fluidity it might have had, but I felt sure that a little practice would quickly smooth out that minor flaw.
It soon became obvious that we were being noticed by the other couples. They slowly drifted to the edge of the floor and stood as admiring spectators to what had now become an impromptu floor-show of sorts. (While not an exhibitionist to any large degree, I must here admit that the attention we were receiving from our voluntary claque, was both warmly complimentary and more than a little bit heady.)
We responded to the audience and, I daresay, our expertise was no little enhanced by the admiring circle of aficianados that now framed the dance floor - with Maria and I the stars of the evening. Gad! It was capital! As the music ended, a wave of applause followed us back to our table. Before seating ourselves we made a deep bow and curtsy to our still-applauding audience. Maria’s eyes were actually quite moist, as we rejoined Tina and Ceex. And who, not so incidentally, had completely missed our moment of triumph in the bliss of their own reunion.
After two hours of drinking by ourselves, another tango for the edification of the crowd and a modest supper that was hardly touched, I suggested to Maria that we excuse ourselves and leave the lovers to their own amusements. She concurred pleasantly with this move.
Ceex, however, would have none of it. He called for the checks paid everything, over my hypocritical protests. Then we all departed. His car was filling an area at the curb that would have accommodated three Volkswagens. He tossed the keys to me and handed Tina into the rear seat. I helped Maria into the front and took the wheel. This turn of events had put me fairly well at sixes and sevens, so I decided to drive around for a while and wait for a signal from Ceek - or divine inspiration from on high.
After traversing the entire Sula basin and making a minute inspection of several pieces of vile road that over-winds the hills above the city, I headed back into the center of things and brought our conveyance to a halt in front of Ceex’s building. He and Tina got out, as I sat quite dumbfounded, waiting for an invisible prompter to give me the right line.
"Keep the car for the night., Old Buddy," Ceex said airily. (On occasion his use of the vulgate forms of personal address upsets me, but I tolerate it with only visual reprimands.)
"Whatever for?" I asked. "'will you be needing my services further in the role of chauffeur?"
"Not tonight," he replied with a grin that I hoped Maria had missed. "We will be staying here." Tina bent down and kissed my cheek through the open window. They called their goodnights to both of us, linked arms and half-ran up the steps of his building. I started the engine and looked across at Maria. She was smiling at me, and then the smile turned into a happy laugh.
"What is the matters Don Guillermo?" It was some time before I managed to get my feelings arranged in verbal form.
"Perhaps I have an over-tended garden of social propriety," I finally said, "but this is the very first time I have delivered a young lady to her assignation, while her mother looked on." Maria laughed again.
"Are you forgetting about the sign, Don Guillermo?" she asked softly, but with an edge of mischief in it. "You told me that Tina and Ceex have a good sign, and that since they are so very much in love, that makes it all right for them. You have made me believe that, also."
As I pulled away from the curb and headed down the deserted street, Maria moved across the seat and tucked her hand under my elbow. When I looked over at her the ghost of the smile was still there. She closed her eyes and lay her head back on the seat pillow. I was suddenly able to identify the fragrance of the white flower in her hair. It was a gardenia. No doubt about it.
I fail to understand why there were no earthquakes in San Pedro Sula that night.
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