The JadeAnne Stone Mexico Adventures
Chapter 1 – Jacked, July 27, 2007
A pair of headlights rushed my old VW camper, assailing me with their high beams. I moved over as far as the shoulder-less causeway allowed. The vehicle pulled into the oncoming lane, honking furiously but didn’t pass.
“What the—? Pass, you idiot!”
Ahead, light strobed through the trees, and a bus barreled around the oncoming curve. It headed straight for the honking moron, and its brights reflected, blinding me through my side mirror. I tensed, gripped the wheel, and laid on the gas. The overloaded VW accelerated inch by inch while I rocked forward and back like a kid willing motion. “Go. Go. Go.” I yelled.
Just in time, the daredevil dropped back into the southbound lane of Ruta 200, and the bus roared past, spewing diesel fumes across the Mexican landscape on its route to “Cd. Obregon.”
Stupid kids, I thought. But I kept my grip on the wheel and my foot to the gas pedal. Taking a missing persons case had seemed like such a good idea at the time—a working holiday, and a
chance to take a good look at my life. Now I felt anxious as I drove south on the narrow, winding Pacific Coast Highway down through Michoacán on my way to Zihuatanejo.
Beep Beep Beeep. The vehicle roared into the other lane again. Did the driver see something wrong with my camper? Lights out? Hatch open? Cargo falling off the roof? Through the mirror, I saw a white pickup. Colored lights set in the grille blinked back and forth—the kind that camioneros use to adorn their trucks. The honking became more insistent. BeepBeepBeep Beeep.
Pepper, woke up from his nap on the back seat and growled at the side window, his hair standing on end. Confused, I toggled the lights off and on. They were working just fine. What did this asshole want?
BEEPBEEPBEEP—The cab pulled parallel with me, and two porky men waved frantically. I slowed down—There must be an emergency—until it registered they had baseball caps pulled low over their faces, and the driver even had a bandana tied like a western bandido. BEEEEP BEEEEP. I stiffened with fear. Why didn’t I keep Pepper up front with me? Could they see him? The driver revved his motor and shot forward just enough to reveal a third masked man sitting in the back, pointing a mean-looking semi-automatic rifle at me. His brown belly poked out of his dirty, open shirt, and my headlights sparked off the thick gold chains he wore. Pepper went ballistic, clawing at the window with his forepaws and barking. I felt light headed.
Suddenly the pickup sped off around a bend, its taillights vanishing as quickly as its headlights had appeared.
My heart thudded fast in my chest. I scanned the forest for a break in the trees, somewhere to hide. What on earth am I doing in Mexico? I asked myself this for about the billionth time since
I’d crossed the border three days before. But now more than feeling lonely, I felt scared and pissed off. It was all Dex’s fault.
Twilight faded into night too fast, and the forest turned to a black void. I wondered if I should stop and fish my gun out of its hidey-hole. I’d probably be safer if I kept moving. “Keep driving—don’t stop. Just keep driving.” A mantra against fear. Anyway, what good would the little pistol do against that rifle?
Truthfully, my feelings had morphed into edginess and irritation hours before. I hadn’t had cell service or seen a road sign since Tecomán, and the few villages I passed were poor, sparsely- populated assemblages of huts and corrals, surrounded by plots hacked out of the forest and planted with scraggly still-green corn. Thin burros and even thinner children stared with large, sad eyes as I passed, posed like the ghastly velvet paintings in the tourist traps. Didn’t anyone feed these kids? Cultivated fields stretched along the narrow littoral between mountains and coast. If the corn wasn’t ripe, there were bananas, coconuts and mangoes, but all this bounty didn’t help me relax— or put meat on those skinny little bones.
Pepper stopped barking but whined from the back, perhaps voicing my own question: Where did they go? The forest looked ghostly under the beams of my headlights, and I floored it when the road dipped down toward sea level. The camper shimmied, reminding me of my mechanic’s warning, “If you’re crazy enough drive in Mexico, drive slowly. The border will be dangerous, but don’t stop for anything until you get to Mazatlán, especially not in the state of Sinaloa—not even for gas. And stick to the coastal route through Michoacán. It’s safer.” Well, call me crazy. But what did Ebbie know about fleeing armed Mexicans?
Keep driving—don’t stop. Just keep driving. I turned off the heart-wrenching Mariachi music playing on the radio. My mind raced. It’s not my day to die, I told myself. Nothing is going to happen to me. Just keep driving.
Out of nowhere, the pickup reappeared and stopped in the middle of the highway, blocking both lanes. The fat guy in the truck bed sighted his weapon on me, and I exercised my only option. Gasping, heart hammering, I clamped my hands to the wheel to steady myself and braked to a stop. I took in a ragged, fear-filled breath. One, two, three, four. Hold, two, three, four. Exhale.
I thought about my gun again as the two thugs from the cab lumbered out of the truck. The masked driver positioned himself to my right and pointed his handgun in my direction. My legs ossified and clacked against each other with the tremors attacking my body. The other man came up to my window, and I smelled cheap tequila, tobacco and rancid sweat—possibly my own. All I could think of was bad Mexican movies and guessed they didn’t plan on showing me any “stinking badges.”
The Hydra Effect
Chapter 1 – Lura’s Funeral, August 8, 2007
I’m being watched. I scanned the wide plaza bordered by the church and a low, ornate, red-painted building, but I couldn’t see anything that looked out of place. No malos hombres behind the well pruned park trees nor the black-clad phantasmata who flitted in and out of my peripheral vision, sighting their sniper rifles from the rooftops along Calle Felipe Carrillo. As if, I’d actually see my assassin. I hurried across Plaza Hidalgo toward La Iglesia de San Juan Bautista.
I knew it was silly, but I couldn’t shake the last words Senator Polo Aguirre had said at the Krystal Hotel in Ixtapa, “I hold Ms. Stone responsible for the death of my cousin.” And Aguirre was a dangerous man—a criminal involved with marijuana and heroin cartels—Hell, he headed up a drug cartel. Wealthy and powerful, he had the backing of Mexico’s ruling class. This whole thing started because Aguirre was the swing vote on the coming Senate decision on the Privatization of PEMEX. But ni importa la culpa, if the Senator wanted to retaliate against me because his rival, Arturo Rodriguez, blew up Aguirre’s cousin Lura on the muelle in Zihuatanejo a week ago, then he had the means to do it. I hurried on.
Parking in the Coyoacán district of Mexico City was a joke on a good day, and I was afraid I’d be late to Lura’s funeral. I’d driven the cuota, Mexico 95, from Acapulco that morning after a lousy night’s sleep in a rent-by-the hour motel on the pimply backside of the posh Acapulco hotel district. It was filthy with trash, both on the ground and on two legs. Some of the human waste appeared to be coming or going from the disco next door, which had cranked up the volume of the music so loud that the shock of the bass almost felt like the bomb blast I’d survived in Zihua—the one that killed Lura. I peeked out my door a couple of times when the thumping and screaming got particularly obnoxious and was reminded that most hookers don’t look like Julia Roberts. God what an ugly lot—and they’re screamers. “Ay Papi! Cójeme Papito, eres mi rey.” Well, if I ever need to “do it” in Spanish, I’ll know how.
The plaza was filled with vendors. I noticed a couple of kids selling hippie paraphernalia—Mayan braided wristlets, peace sign earrings and pendants, Balinese batik shifts, tie-dye headbands, Rasta-colored t-shirts—the usual stuff found on any treet vendor’s table in Berkeley. The pollution that afternoon stank and hung yellow and gritty around the vendors and their customers. I could barely breathe and scurrying across the plaza had me gasping so, that I slowed down, forced to catch my breath. A clown proffered me a bouquet of helium balloons while a white-clad man pushed an ice cream cart by, his bell jangling. I salivated. A scoop of coconut ice cream would have been a balm for my smog-irritated throat, but I swallowed hard and hurried on.
“Lay-dee, señora. Tengo tu futuro.”
I glanced toward the throaty voice. A gypsy-like bruja sat at a folding table and laid out Tarot cards on a black velvet cloth. Seeing my interest, she pulled a card from the deck in her palm and displayed the Knight of Swords. I slowed down.
“Venga, lay-dee. Así es el futuro.” She swept the displayed layout to the side and placed the card in the middle of her cloth. “A príncipe looks for you Señorita,” she paused and extracted the King of Pentacles from within her deck and placed it over the first card with a meaningful look. I started to move on, but she flicked a third card out of the pack and crossed it over the King. A man lay dead with a forest of swords sticking out of his back.
“¡Ay! ¡Dios mio!” The witch crossed herself and began to gather up the cards, her wrinkled, bony hands moving like the wings of a hummingbird.
My heart dropped into my gut and shivers ran up my spine. Someone walking on my grave. I hurried the last couple hundred feet to the church. Well-heeled mourners in small groups filed between the massive, scarred wooden doors leading into the dim interior. Most of the women appeared to have stepped from the pages of Vogue magazine, and I could see a lot of important jewelry sparkling on fingers and ears and around necks and wrists. I stood back to calm down, admiring the lovely relief sculpture on the facade and checked out the attendees as they arrived, hoping to see someone I knew—Anibal.
I glanced at my watch. Last minute mourners in limousines and chauffeur driven SUVs drew up to the curb opposite the main doors. Uniformed drivers helped rich urbanites, “Chilangos,” out of the vehicles and onto the sidewalk. It was obvious by the unusual lumps under jackets that some of these drivers were really bodyguards. Drug Mafia, I supposed. I mean, do Senators need bodyguards? I wouldn’t know. I realized, too, that there were way more armed police in the area than should be normal for the funeral of an American. My skin rippled with the thought of being sighted in somebody’s crosshairs again. I shuddered and pushed through the crowd into the church.
Nothing Comes After Z
Novel in progress. Coming soon…