Supernatural Fiction posted October 25, 2015


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A nest of spies

The Conjurer, Part Four

by Writingfundimension

PREVIOUSLY:

Retrieving the envelope from my pocket, I handled it as gingerly as a poison dart. It's surface was crisp and clean. Don't open it, I thought. Go back to Texas and find another way to get the information you need. But solving puzzles drove every aspect of my life. Besides, going home was tantamount to admitting the Senor Pasquale's calculated moves had stymied me. I had to try to figure him out.

Lifting the flap, I pulled out a sheet of paper and spread it across my steering wheel to read the exquisitely penned words:


Dear Doctor Morales,

Should you decide to accept my offer to visit my home in the desert, I will be happy to provide my driver, Puente, for your convenience. The concierge at Hotel Huizache has been given instructions accordingly.

I hope to see you soon.


Senor Pasquale

**********



A tourniquet of pressure ran the perimeter of my skull, and the contents of my stomach warned me they were about to take action. I lay on my right side facing the bathroom ten feet away. I decided to remain in place until the nausea passed. I cracked my eyes enough to gauge the amount of light in the room. The only illumination was the white blip of a heat sensor and my bedside clock.

Flinging my arm across my face, I made a concerted effort to fight through the brain fog of a major-league hangover. I recalled checking in at the hotel, having taken the time to hang a few items of clothing and then heading down to the hotel’s restaurant.

The hostess ignored my request to be seated far away from a table occupied by four men in suits. It ruined my plans for a quiet dinner if they were out celebrating a business deal--another reason I wanted some distance between us. But the woman dropped a menu on the table of her choice and took off before I could protest. I glared at her back and wondered at her rudeness.

In the process of turning back to study the menu, my eyes connected with one of the men. His suit appeared perfectly tailored down to the triangle of silk in his breast pocket. He had a salt and pepper beard and eyebrows desperate to be tamed, and he held my gaze in the manner of a collector studying an acquisition. Though it lasted but seconds, the encounter left me shaken.

I knew what he’d concluded. I was an American tourist who expected the locals to jump when commanded. He was probably informing the rest of the party about how the white guy got put in his place by a woman. When the table erupted into laughter, I was certain it was at my expense.

Using my dinner napkin to wipe the sweat from my forehead, I turned my chair so that I would not have the chance of making eye contact again. I pulled a book from my satchel and placed it in front of me in an effort to appear detached. I tried to pull myself together and at least pretend to be unaffected by the nature of all my recent encounters in the town. Ever since hitting this part of Mexico, I felt myself wading through a muck of paranoia, and I’d had enough of it.

Once my main course arrived—grilled quail in a spicy peanut mole--I lost myself in its multi-layered flavors. Paired with several glasses of a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, my muscles relaxed and my fears retreated. It was nearly 7:30 P.M. when I returned to my room with a happy stomach and a slight buzz on. The air in the room was stale and heavy, so I had adjusted the temperature then placed my carry-on bag atop the bed and retrieved two items: a journal and the very expensive Mezcal.

Filling a tumbler with the tequila, I stretched across the bed and made notes in the journal. I kept the glass full and furiously wrote though I could not now recall any of the content. “Fool,” I chided myself. “Getting stone drunk and passing out last night was beyond stupid in this crazy place. What about the plan you were working on?”

The plan! It was clear last night—at least I think it was. Where’s the journal?

I patted the surface of the bed and didn’t breathe until my hand brushed against its surface. I clung to its edges like it was the last oar in the boat. I thought about my declining confidence since the first meeting with the shaman, Senor Pasquale. Despite my initial assurance he’d not hypnotized me, I wondered now if he’d induced an alternate state through some means known only to his kind. In my current state of mind, anything was possible.

My thoughts wandered to the feel of the fabric against my face. When I examined what I was wearing, I realized I'd not changed from yesterday's clothing--which meant I’d not taken a shower. Also, the sounds coming from my bowels were rising in pitch and frequency.

Lifting my torso, I paused to test my steadiness. Next, I slid my legs over the side of the bed and planted my feet on the floor. My final challenge was to cross to the bathroom without accident. On reaching it, I relieved my insides of their burden and felt better. I found plentiful plush towels, and an immediacy of hot water for my shower. I let the jets pound over me for fifteen minutes and, afterward, felt a modicum of clarity returning.

Emerging from the bathroom, I spied my laptop open. Damn--I forgot to log off last night. Checking e-mails, I saw one from Elise, but I was afraid to open it. What if I’d called her last night in my drunken state? I didn't feel like explaining to her why I'd broken my own rule about excess drinking given the vitriol that often surfaced when I did.

I flirted with the idea of going downstairs for breakfast. After all, it was included in my room cost. I tried and failed to remember the coffee I’d had with the previous night's dinner, and anything less than perfect would further assault my senses. In my mind, great coffee is a gift from the gods. How anyone, including my girlfriend Elise, can enjoy the swill that comes from fast food emporiums is beyond my comprehension. 

She once criticized my high-end preferences after I made the mistake of bragging about the price per pound of Ecuadorian coffee beans I preferred. “My God, Stefano" she said, "the way you go through that stuff, you must be spending the equivalent of a third-world median income. You, of all people, should know that caffeine is a psychoactive substance. Should you be drinking so much of it when you're also taking Xanax?”

I heard her mumble, “Shit," and my eyes lifted from the chopping board to the guilty flush of her cheeks. I laid down the knife and straightened. “How do you know about the Xanax?”   
 
“I needed some aspirin, and you weren’t around. I searched the bathroom cabinet—the Xanax bottle was right there. I couldn’t help but see it.”

“You couldn’t tell a solid lie if the fate of the world hinged on it, Elise.”

She rubbed the corner of her eye and looked away. “Okay, I was snooping.” Crossing her arms, she met my glare. “I shouldn’t have done it, but it explains your mood swings.”

I leaned against the countertop and struggled to quell my rage. “You crossed a line,” I said.

Elise came around to my right side and caressed my arm, but I stepped away from her and felt a mask fall into place. “This is another example of you trying to own chunks of my life.” My voice was cold and my body rigid. “I’m forced to keep secrets because you don’t respect my boundaries. It’s why we’ll never be forever, Elise.”

Her face lost all color, and I saw the hurt in her eyes. But I would not relent, and asked her to leave the apartment. We remained strictly colleagues for a few months and then, like two hands on a clock inexorably linked to the cycles of time, we fell back into our old relationship pattern. When I made plans to come to Mexico alone, Elise saw it as a deliberate distancing of my affection. She could not accept that this was an experience I needed to face alone.

The bedside telephone rang, which caught me off-guard. I answered it on the second ring.

“Yes…’

“Senor Morales, this is the concierge, Jorge Ortega. You asked me to inform you when your transportation arrived.

“Transportation—I don’t recall…’

“You stopped by my desk yesterday afternoon and told me to call you this morning when your car and driver arrived, which they have just now done.”

I felt excitement mixed with a rush of fear. “What kind of car is it?”

“An old black Cadillac, Senor.”

“And the driver?”

“There are two hombres de miedo (scary men), and I must admit I would not put myself into their hands. Do you want me to send them away?”

“Not necessary. I appreciate your concern, but I know at least one of the men.”

“Buena. Puenta is just now entering the elevator. He should arrive momentarily.”

"What? I'm not dressed yet."  

I held the receiver between my ear and shoulder while I pulled on underwear and jeans. My words were met with silence so I assumed Jorge had hung up. He had not, and his next statement reinforced my doubt.

“Senor Pasquale is a man who casts a wide shadow hereabouts. No one entering his world ever returns the same. You should consider not answering the knock on your door Doctor Morales and take this opportunity to return to America. People like you can get lost in the vastness of our desert.”

My butt hit the edge of the bed, and the receiver went flying. I was stunned by the warning and, in that moment, felt like slamming my fist into the nearest wall.

Was the whole damned town involved in an elaborate fraud, I wondered? Only one way to find out. I would face the shaman and hold my ground because I had experience dealing with narcissists like Pasquale. Using the many tools of my trade to put him in his place, I'd make him sorry he ever messed with this hombre.

~~ to be continued ~~


     
 
 
 
 


Recognized


Terms:
Hombre: Man
Mezcal: A sort of country cousin to tequila. They are both made from the agave plant
Xanax: Anti-anxiety medication

I have to give credit to the fine Chicago chef Rick Bayliss for the dish mentioned in this piece.

Thanks to hevenlymom for the excellent artwork.
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