a work of fiction
Donald R. Scott
When Tony Amanos woke up, rolled over and patted the near side of the bed, she wasn’t there. He smelled coffee brewing and smiled: ah, Maria Caldales was in the kitchen. He savored blending her image with the aroma of fresh coffee until intermittent gunfire five miles away in Belmopan, the capital of Belize, disrupted his daydreaming.
Exotic Belize, a small country just 38 by 110 miles, bordered on the east by the crystal waters of the Caribbean Sea, by Mexico’s gritty Yucatan Peninsula to the north and mercurial Guatemala to the west: Belize was undergoing a military takeover. For the past eight days, rebels within the tiny country and guerilla invaders from Guatemala clashed with the only resistance that existed – the Belmopan police department. The insurgents faced no organized opposition because Belize had no army, and other countries were hesitant to interfere.
From the 1600s, Belize was a possession of England known as British Honduras until 1978 when a military junta overthrew authorities and created a new republic. The British were probably delighted to give up rule over the nonproductive land. Although the country was the same size as El Salvador to the south, its population was only 200,000 compared to El Salvador’s 2,500,000. Its only industries were small citrus groves and tourism.
Tony worked in the California real estate department of Hilton Hotels International. He was sent to Belize to fact find, in depth, the feasibility of Hilton building a profitable resort in Belize. Critical to the speculative plans were location, property, exposure to a sandy beach front, proximity to the ancient Mayan cities and ruins, and acreage that could be transformed into an easily played golf course for Hilton guests wanting to relax, not in competing at the Masters. Affirming the legality of a gambling casino was uppermost. He also had to evaluate the labor market, to find potential employees who could be hired and trained at the resort. Transportation in and out of the country was another prime concern. Commuter aircraft had to connect with jets landing in Guatemala and El Salvador. The cruise ships would have to anchor off shore and shuttle vacationers to Belize. There was no coastal port capable of docking the huge white liners and no major airfield to accommodate commercial jets.
This was summertime and the rainy season began at intervals in June, then continuously from October through December. Fortunately, and this was what Hilton was banking on, the dry season began in January and lasted until mid-May, the height of tropical tourism for American vacationers.
While crisscrossing Belize, exploring solutions to Hilton requirements, Tony met Maria at a real estate company. As she drove him around the country, their business relationship grew into friendship and then into love. Soon they were sharing one of her company’s rental properties – a fully furnished, split level house on a hill overlooking Belmopan, built of cement block and painted a gleaming white like most in the area. Under a blazing sun, the effect was blinding.
Tony pulled on a pair of faded denim shorts, slid his feet into sandals, and paused at the entry into the kitchen. “Hi ya, hon.” Standing at a counter preparing breakfast, the beautiful Maria Caldales turned to him.
“Hi ya, hon,” she returned their favorite, intimate exchange. She was 27, had a husband who disappeared two years earlier, leaving no children, no money, and she was happy to be rid of him.
Even with music playing from Maria’s radio, Tony thought the gunfire coming from Belmopan was louder, getting closer. At a window, he pulled aside one of the drapes and looked down both sides of the circular driveway made of white crushed stone and coral. Maria’s convertible was parked on the up slope of the curve, and on the other side the air-conditioned sedan he had leased at the airport in El Salvador.
Suddenly, up the drive, stopping behind Maria’s Mitsubishi Eclipse, barreled a beat-up SUV. The doors opened and two men carrying automatic rifles jumped out, ran up to Maria’s car, one on each side, exploding rifle fire into all four tires and the engine.
The front door to the house was on the second floor. Tony dashed for it, slammed and bolted it. On his way into the bedroom, he yelled, “Maria, Maria! Go into the bedroom! Quick! Right now!” He pulled a carry-on bag out from under the bed and ran back to the living room. He tipped over a heavy armchair diagonally away from the front door and crouched behind it. From the bag he took a Glock 9mm pistol and slammed a full clip into the gun. Holding it with both hands in the crevice of the chair’s arm and back, he aimed the pistol at the front door. Sounds of the screen door being pulled open and the shaking of the doorknob were quickly followed by gunfire aimed at the door’s lock and handle. As Tony steadied his grip on his weapon, he felt a tightness of adrenalin. The door burst open against the wall followed by a rushing intruder holding an automatic rifle.
Tony’s first shot went into the man’s chest, the second and third entered his shoulder and head. As the man fell, Tony had a clear field to his partner; three blasts from the 9mm brought him down. Tony peeked higher from behind the chair; in a micro-second he evaluated the scene, stood up and emptied the rest of his rounds into the bodies of the fallen invaders to make sure they remained dead. He dropped the empty clip onto the floor and rearmed his pistol. He stuffed the gun back into his bag and ran to find Marie.
“Maria!” he yelled. “Get your stuff together, fast! Get food, blankets, water! Throw it all into bags and boxes. We’re getting out of here, right now!”
He met her coming from the bedroom. She was terrorized, shaking and crying. He held her, trying to comfort her.
“It’s all right, hon. You’re safe, but we have to leave. Right now. Okay?” He held her face with both hands so she had to look at him.
Her eyes gushed tears. She sobbed, “Si, Tony, si. I will go with you.”
“Good. I love you, hon. Let’s go. Bring everything to the door and I’ll put it in my car, then we leave. Your car is ruined. They shot it up.”
He piled a load of his possessions next to the bodies, grabbed the two rifles, wrapped them in a blanket, and ran down the drive to the rebels’ vehicle. From a quick look inside, he noted a hodgepodge of loot taken from previous ransackings and what he was looking for: on the floor of the passenger side was an open cardboard box containing extra banana shaped magazines for the rifles. He set the box on the ground, unwrapped one of the weapons, backed up a few feet, and walking around the SUV, shot out all four tires and emptied the gun into the hood of the vehicle.
Tony was comfortable with arms and how to use them. Some of the questions asked during his Hilton interview surprised him. Not all the interrogators focused on his realty and business experience; some were more interested in his military background, especially his experience in special forces.
He ejected the empty magazine from the rifle and threw it as hard as he could at the wreckage.
He wrapped the blanket around the two rifles and the box of ammunition, and put them in the trunk of his car. He heaped plastic bags of belongings from the house on top of the blanket in a futile attempt at concealment.
Back inside the house, he saw that Maria had piled more boxes and bags by the door. She wasn’t there.
“In here,” her quivering voice answered from the kitchen.
He pulled her to him, held her her tightly. “Listen, hon. Looks like just one or two more trips to the car, then we leave. Okay? When I come back, we will go. Together. Okay?”
She wiped tears from her eyes and smiled.
“Good. Now while I’m taking this last stuff out, you get a sheet and rip it into strips, about this wide.” He held up his index fingers, nearly nine inches apart. “Okay? Then bring them to the front door and wait for me.” She nodded in agreement but was clearly puzzled. In two trips, Tony loaded the last of their hastily gathered belongings and some food. They were ready to leave. He dashed up the steps, two at a time, side-stepping the bodies and grabbed Maria who was standing with her back turned. “Maria! The strips of sheets?” She pointed to a bundle of cloth on the floor. “Wrap them around me as if I have been shot in the chest, just below my right shoulder. Here, I’ll show you how to do it. Start here. I’ll hold the end and show you where to wind it.”
“But you’re not hurt.”
“Doesn’t matter. Just do it.”
They had created an L-shaped wrapping of cloth around his right shoulder when Tony said, “Now, this is the last one.” He took a strip and dipped it into one of the puddles of blood from the slain intruders. He held it up. “This is the last one. It goes on top.”
Marie grimaced, took the sopping bloody cloth and wound it as Tony had instructed.
“Now take the end and tear it to make long tabs and tie them together. Good, let’s go.” He grasped her hand as they stepped around the bodies in the doorway and ran to his car. She hesitated when she saw the destruction of her convertible and the shooters’ SUV but Tony pulled her along to the other side of the driveway. He handed his keys to her. “You drive.” He slid into the front passenger seat and slumped to one side as if not able to sit upright.
“Now head for the hospital.”
“But, Tony, you’re not hurt. Why do you–“
“Just do it!”
Maria drove slowly down the drive to the road that led to Belmopan. The gravel roads became paved as they entered the city. Clouds of smoke from burning buildings and automobiles rose up into the vivid blue sky.
“So far, so good. Don’t stop anywhere. Keep heading north as if we’re going to the hospital in Belize City. Faster.”
The distraught Maria knew her way, this was her own country, but his behavior made no sense.
As they neared Belize City, suddenly Tony yelled, “Stop! Stop! I forgot something. My carry-on bag!”
Maria pulled over. “We go back?” she asked.
“No, it’s here in the car. I need it. Give me the car keys. The bag is in the trunk.” Tony jumped out of the car, ran to the trunk. In less than a minute, he was back in the passenger seat. He handed the keys to dumfounded Maria, unzipped the bag and took out his Glock pistol.
“Marie, untie this last bandage so I can put this under it.” She loosened the bloody wrapping and Tony slid the gun under it in the hollow of his armpit. “Good, now tie it up again, but not tight. Keep it loose so I can get at it. Let’s go. Now don’t go all the way into Belize City. Take that road you showed me one time that goes around the city and connects with the Northern Highway and up to Corozol. If we can get on that, it’s only about 20 miles to the border. Right?”
She had already started the car, and for the first time, managed a smile, realizing they were headed for the Mexican border.
“Si, senor,” she replied, exaggerating a Spanish accent that Tony always enjoyed.
He slumped again into the position of a seriously wounded person, and Marie headed north, leaving behind the sounds of gunfire and smoke from burning buildings. They met no more revolutionary activity but just four miles from the Mexican border, Maria slowed the car and brought it to a stop.
"What’s the matter? What’s happening?”
“A truck is blocking the road. Two men are coming. They are holding big guns.”
Tony didn’t move from his seriously injured pose and waited. The men approached, one to each side of the car, and looked in.
“Where are you going?” the man asked in Spanish.
Tony nudged Maria with his elbow.
Right on cue, Maria answered in Spanish, “To find a doctor. My husband has been seriously wounded.”
“Why did you not go to the hospital?”
“They were full and turned us away. Please, let us go. He will die if we do not get to a doctor.”
“Get out of the car.” The man opened the door and pulled Maria by the arm. The other man had been studying the inert form of Tony, his bloody bandages, and the bags and boxes of possible plunder to loot. It was obvious these men were not official representatives of any Belize defense forces.
The first man threw Maria to the ground at the side of the road, and the second man joined him. He grabbed her thrashing arms and pinned them over her head. He tugged at her tank top, pull it up to expose her breasts. The first man yanked Maria’s shorts and panties down her body as his partner roughly squeezed and kneaded Maria’s breasts. Her screaming and twisting did nothing to stop the attack. If anything her resistance seemed to excite the men. They did not notice that Tony had slid over to the driver’s side and withdrawn his pistol from under its bloody wrapping and pointed it through the window frame in the open door. Maria was just 15 feet away pinned to the ground by her rapists. Steadying his hands on the door, Tony sent a 9mm bullet into the side of the head of the man holding Maria’s arms. The second man, in the act of pulling down his trousers, was startled, looked at his dead partner, and then over to Tony’s car. He was greeted by a bullet just above the bridge of his nose, evenly spaced between his eyes.
Tony leaped from the car, the pistol still in his hands. Certain that the two men were dead, he thumbed the safety and stuffed the gun inside his belt and knelt over Maria. He held her close and rocked her. And rocked her. Finally he rose, shoved and kicked the two bodies away from Maria, and gently pulled her to her feet. He hugged her for a long moment, then led her to the car and carefully settled her into the same seat he had been using. He ripped off all the strips of bandages still wrapped around his chest, found a clean shirt in one of his bags, and put it on. He balled up the bloody strips of cloth and threw them on the bodies of the rapists.
“Bastards!” he said and spit on them.
In the car, Maria sat weeping, holding both sides of her face, slumped in the corner next to the door. Tony comforted her gently and began the short ride remaining to the Mexican border.
Within ten minutes, he saw a column of vehicles stopped along the side of the road. Figuring it had to be the border, he pulled in behind a truck. He was the fifth in line. At the head of the line was a van. Behind it was a soldier surrounded by a group of excited adults and children, waving their arms and shouting at the soldier. He watched a tall, trim military figure stroll leisurely along the column, seemingly intent on speaking with him. His uniform was immaculate. He smiled and greeted Tony in fluent English.
“Good day, senor. You have crossed the border from Belize into Mexico. Is it your intent to enter the Republic of Mexico, and for what purpose?”
“I am an American citizen, employed by an American company and have been working temporarily in Belize for them. Because of this attempt by other interests to take over the country, I am returning to the United States.”
“May I see your papers, please?”
Tony handed over his passport, a California driver’s license, a Hilton Hotels International ID card, and a visa from Belize. While the officer carefully studied the material, Tony retrieved the car rental agreement agreement from the glove compartment and handed it to him.
“That is your wife? Is she ill?”
“She is Maria Caldales, my fiancee. She is a citizen of Belize, and we are getting married if I ever get back to California.”
“Senor, she does not seem right. Does she need medical attention? We have nothing here, but I can have help sent from Chetumal; it is only three kilometers from here.”
Tony was overwhelmed by the unexpected consideration. He told the officer what had just happened less than 20 minutes ago. “You will find those two guys about four miles back down the road.”
The officer grinned. “Senor, we are not going looking for bodies in another country. Let the vultures find them. Would you like the senorita to rest inside?” He gestured to the outpost building.
“Thank you.” Tony decided to gamble that the obliging officer could be trusted. “But first, I have to show you something I found alongside the road.” He put his fingertips on Maria’s bare shoulder. “It’s going to be all right, hon. We’re at the border and pretty soon we’ll be on the road again. I’m just going to the back of the car.”
“Okay,” she said, but there was doubt in her voice.
Tony opened the trunk. On top were the weapons that had belonged to the rapists.
“You are going to declare these upon entry, senor?”
“No, no. Remember, I found these. I am turning them over to you and the soldier.” The soldier was still squabbling with the group at the head of the line. “These weapons are yours now. Remember? I just found them?” Tony unwrapped the blanket from the other rifles. “I’m sure they can be of use to you.”
The Mexican officer was stunned, but not upset. “Si, this is all we have.” He patted his holstered revolver, an ancient .38 caliber used as a trade- in for newer weapons by an American police department. “The border between Mexico and Belize is usually very quiet. Not like going into your Texas.”
Tony held out the box of the extra magazines to the officer who didn’t take them. “Later, when we get inside. Drive up and stop beside the first van and wait for me there. Do not get out.”
The officer calmly walked along the row of waiting vehicles, telling each group that a woman needed medical attention as soon as possible and he was going to give her priority customs questioning. He ignored the abusive language and hollering that erupted at each of his stops. His explanation did nothing to appease the furious outpourings from the evacuees, especially the group encountering the other soldier.
Ignoring the glares of the waiting people, Tony drove up and stopped alongside the first vehicle, a van with its roof heavily loaded with family possessions. The driver of the van gave a curious glance at Tony, then resumed facing straight ahead, as if seeing nothing. The driver wasn’t looking for trouble. He was still first in line.
The officer walked to Tony’s car. “Both of you, follow me into the building. Bring the goods you found on the road. Keep them covered in the blanket. We will go over your papers.”
Inside, Tony handed his bundle to the officer who slid it under one of two cots set up along one wall. He sat at a desk on which were stacks of neatly arranged papers. He motioned to Maria and Tony to take a seat. His first questioning was directed to Maria; when he was assured that she needed no medical attention, he inspected their papers and pronounced them acceptable in spite of Maria’s only documentation being a Belize driver’s license.
Tony felt sure they were going to cross the border without a hassle. This was the last hurdle, and they were going to make it out, away from the idiotic insurrection and mayhem in Belize.
The officer took some forms from a drawer, set them on the desk, and asked Tony, “Now, what is your destination?”
The soldier burst into the room. In Spanish he yelled, “Carlos, come quick! I need your help! These people have a gun. They say they will use it if we do not let them through right now! Come help me!”
Calmly, the officer stood, looked at Tony, and shrugged. He followed the soldier to the door, then stopped. He turned around, came back, unwrapped one of the automatic rifles from under the cot, and strode out the door, the rifle barrel pointed upright, handling the weapon’s mechanism knowingly. Within minutes, these were sounds of gunfire followed by the officer re-entering the building and returning the weapon to the weaponry under the cot. He took his place at the desk.
“Yes, Senor Amanos, your gift is already . . . ah . . . ah, “ he searched for the English word he wanted. “Appreciated! Yes, that’s it, appreciated. Some shots in the air at a white cloud brought quiet.” He continued asking questions of Tony and Maria, had them sign some forms, which he gathered into one neat pile. He held aside three papers, put his signature on them, and passed them to Tony. “Keep these with you on your trip to Mexico City. You will need to show them.” He led them to a map of Mexico taped on a wall. “You are here. Mexico City is here. It is about 1200 kilometers.”
“What is that in miles, roughly?”
“Oh, about 800, almost,” the officer answered.
“That will take a couple of days! If we leave right now, how far can we get? What are the roads like?”
“If you left right now, you would be here,” he pointed at the map, “when there is no more sun, and is dark. This is all banana plantation,” he said, his finger making little circles on the map. “There is nothing. It is not good, dangerous, for many kilometers.”
“We have to get to Mexico City!”
“I say this. Go to Chetumal tonight. It’s a small town but you can find a place to sleep in a canteen. Explorers of Mayan ruins stay there. You can fill your car with petrol and leave for Mexico City in the morning. Do that. It is much safer.”
“Show me again,” Tony asked.
Carlos tapped on the map. “When you leave here, go as far as you can. Then left takes you to Mexico City. You do not do that. Do this. You go right, into Chetumal and stay there this night. See? It is the wrong way but is very short.” He studied Tony’s face to see how he was taking this detour suggestion. “Tomorrow, in the morning, you drive on route number 186, this way, to Mexico City. This road has hard surface because of the banana trucks. When you get here,” his finger touched a dot on the map, the town of Minititian, “you will still be 350 kilometers from Mexico City. If it is getting dark, stay there, like in Chetumal. It is best you do that. From there, the road is good. When you get close to Mexico City, it is like your American fast highways, many roads on each side.” He held his hands out flat, fingers extended, and slid them back and forth.
“You have food?”
“Keep it with you. There are canteens in Chetumal and Minatitian. Have your meals there before you go to Mexico City. Save your food for the travel, you might need it. Please, sit down again. I have more questions.”
After the long and seemingly cordial exchange with the Mexican customs officer, Tony was surprised that they still were not being allowed to enter the Republic of Mexico. Carlos wanted to know about the military situation in Belize, whether it seemed the insurgents would become supreme in the tiny country. He asked about damage done in Belmopan, the capital, and Belize City, the most advanced and largest city, the highways and roads. He said he would make a report of Tony’s comments for his superiors. The insurrection in Belize with unauthorized assistance from factions in Guatemala was being watched very closely by countries who were the world’s movers. He knew that any information he gave to his people would be heavily respected if his government passed it on to the concerned outside nations. The least of Tony Amanos’ comments could become a factor in global response.
Tony admired how quickly Carolos Jaramillo had grasped the situation, how systematically he phrased his questions. He had no official printed forms as a guide. On a pad, he carefully noted Tony’s remarks. Ten minutes later, his partner appeared in the doorway.
“Carlos, what is the matter? Now there are many, many more people coming. Everyone is angry. I am alone out there. Do something, quick!”
Carlos stood and shook Tony’s hand. “Have a safe journey.” He kissed Maria lightly on the cheek. “Have a big family, senorita.” He looked at the soldier still standing in the doorway. “Order the first driver to drive up one truck length, then have all the rest move up. That will make them quiet down. Tell the first ones to bring their papers in here to me. We will move them along.” He walked with Tony and Maria to the door. He didn’t mention the weapons stashed under the cot and waved at them as they drove off.
“We’re on our way, Maria! We made it. California, here we come!” Tony whooped. He steered with his left hand, and with his right, hugged Maria and held her close. They left the rain forest of Belize and drove through the jungle of the Yucatan Peninsula. The road they followed was deeply rutted and slow going but they reached the little village of Chetumal as darkness settled in.
The next morning they set out on Route 186 for Mexico City. For mile after mile, the narrow but hard-surfaced highway cut through heavily forested banana trees. Often thy caught up to trucks loaded high with stalks of bright green bananas. On some trucks, workers rode on top of the hard green fruit and as Tony’s car passed them, the friendly farm hands whooped and hollered at the couple in the bright red new automobile. Maria waved in return and Tony beeped the horn. Tony wished they could make side trips to at least some of the sites of the many Mayan ruins that were so close. Another time, probably never, Tony thought. His next assignment from Hilton International might be Egypt, and he’d never get to see the phyramids. He glowered inwardly.
Maria studied his face. “What’s the matter, hon?” She sensed the abrupt shift in his mood.
He glanced at Maria. “Oh, nothin’, hon.” He tried to put into perspective the reason they were in the middle of a banana jungle heading for Mexico City. “I was thinking about bringing you here, away from your country. Away from your family.” He held up his hand, “I know, I know. Your mother and father are gone. I’m sorry, and we haven’t talked much about it. Maybe, until now. But I, we, we’re doing what I want to do, Not once have I thought about what you want to do. I’m sorry, Maria. Please forgive me.”
Maria grabbed him with both arms, kissed him. “Tony, Tony, Tony. I love you. I love you.”
He swerved and struggled to keep control of the steering wheel. He croaked, “Thank you, we’re almost there.”
“Miatitian, then it’s just about a day’s drive to Mexico City from there. Believe me, in California, we drive a lot faster than this. We’d be there already. Wait until you see our freeways. Seventy is slow. They’re all crazy.”
“The drivers. All except me, of course. I’m very careful. Very safe.” He smiled as he reflected about the car he tooled around in, a silver 911 Carera Porsche. It was his baby, the most significant and prized possession in his life until he met Maria. Now, the emphasis in his life had already shifted from self-centered personal enjoyment to the recognition and concern for others. He could see the future coming. He smiled. He looked at Maria. His love for her was the strongest, the most intense, the most overwhelming physical, emotional experience his consciousness had ever confronted. He felt comfortable with these new emotions and imagined about being married, having a large family and owning a large home. Unless something catastrophic happened to Hilton International, he imagined things ahead would be very pleasant and favorable for him. For both of them.
As the late afternoon shadows deepened, they arrived in Minititian. Chetumal had looked like a Hollywood set for a John Wayne movie, whereas Minititian was larger with substantial buildings. There were more people on the street, and livelier too. They obtained a room over a canteen, had their supper, and took a short walk before returning to their room. Frequently, Tony went out to the street to check on his car, parked in front of the canteen. An employee spoke to him.
“Senor, do not be afraid. We have important science people as guests, to go to Mayan ruins. They put their Land Rovers in front of our hotel. It is safe. We have police here.” He tried to reinforce his words by smiling. Tony wasn’t fully convinced but he didn’t leave the room again that night. He had more confidence in the 9mm Glock in his bag than in someone’s word. At sunrise, the first thing Tony did was look out the window at the comforting sight of his car still in the spot where he had parked it.
For breakfast they enjoyed scrambled eggs wrapped in tortilias accompanied by hot, spicy sausage, a platter of fresh, cut up fruit surrounded by ripe bananas cut in half lengthwise. With full stomachs and a full gas tank, Marie and Tony began the last leg of their journey to Mexico City.
The banana plantations gave way to commercial farms and smaller tracts cultivated by families of Mexican Indians. The further they drove, the frequency of buildings and commercialism increased, the effect of the growing sprawl from the big city lying ahead. Towards the end of the day, with the sun dropping rapidly on their left, a haze appeared on the horizon, the heavy smog that hung perpetually over the city.
Maria shrieked, “I see it! I see it!” Tony felt relieved by the silhouettes of tall buildings against the skyline. Within twenty minutes, they entered the city.
Maria’s enthusiasm at seeing shops, signs and neon lights everywhere, was like that of a bubbly school child. Tony stopped for directions to the Calaya Hilton. Maria was stunned when he drove on the hotel’s circular drive and pulled to a stop in front of an elegant entrance. A young man helped separate the bags Tony wanted left in the car from those he wanted taken to the room. Another youth in uniform drove Tony’s car away. At the registration desk, Tony asked to meet with the manager. He told Maria he wouldn’t be long, and was escorted into an office. When he emerged, he said, “All set.” They followed a bellboy to an elevator and rode to one of the upper floors. They settled into a luxurious suite with large windows that looked out over the twinkling lights of the city.
Maria ran to a window, back into the living room where Tony was using the phone, then into the bedroom that had a king size bed and two separate bathrooms, back through the living room into a kitchenette alcove with a fully-stocked liquor cabinet and refrigerator. She squealed with delight and dashed back to a window to look at the lights again. Tony was still on the phone when there was a knock at the door.
She looked at Tony but he just motioned for her to answer it. She opened the door to a young girl who wheeled in a car laden with flower arrangements, fresh fruit and candles. Following her was a man wheeling another cart with trays of appetizers and a bottle of champagne chilling in an ice bucket. The man opened the champagne with a professional flourish while the girl placed the flowers in every room of the suite.
Still on the phone, Tony and the man exchanged hand gestures: first, that Tony wanted to sign for the amenities, and second, from the waiter, that they had been taken care of. Tony knew the courtesy had to have been arranged by his employer. He made several long distance calls. The longest conversation was to his immediate superior, an executive of Hilton International, the vice president of global operations.
After the last phone call was completed, Tony leaned way back in the chair, smiled and clapped his hands together.
“You’re going to love this, Maria,” he said. “Tomorrow we are going shopping and you’re getting a whole lot of new clothes. We have to get rid of the rest of the stuff we brought. We can’t use that car anymore. We have to leave it here at the hotel.”
“Because you’re not supposed to bring a leased or rental car into Mexico. That car stays here; the company will take care of it.”
“But, you did. You drove all the way here; you didn’t get stopped. They didn’t say anything when we crossed the border.”
“That soldier must have really liked us. He gave me a bunch of special papers to help get us this far. I still have them, but I didn’t have to use them.” He pointed to the table where he had made his phone calls. “It probably had somethiong to do with an emergency evacuation because of the revolution going on.”
“But Tony, now what are you going to do? How do we get out of here?”
“The company is sending a plane for us, one of the corporate jets. We’re getting out of here tomorrow. Then in a few hours, we’ll be in California, in the good old USA, where we are getting married, and where you are going to study and have your own real estate company and where we’ll have a big house and where we’ll have a big family. Okay, hon?”
“Oh Tony.” She ran into his arms and broke down.
He tipped her face up. “Okay, hon?”
Tears streamed down her face. “Okay, hon,” she answered.”