It was late afternoon by the time she returned to the resort. Pleasantly exhausted, she planned to have a shower, order dinner and go to bed. As she passed the desk, the concierge called her over.
“You have a message, Ms. Saunders.”
“Anne Soames. It’s urgent.”
Anne? What could be so urgent?
In her room, she was about to call Anne when there was a knock on her door.
“Who is it?”
“Ms. Saunders, may I please speak with you.” It was a woman’s voice with a Spanish accent.
Mattie opened the door a crack. In the hall was a young woman in a hotel housekeeping uniform. She was crying.
“I’m so sorry to bother you, Ms. Saunders, but I thought you needed to know right away.”
“The army, they have attacked the conference center in Oventic.”
“Yes. And Roberto and Rafael, my husband and brother.”
“Are they alright?”
“We don’t know. I can’t reach them. The army used helicopter gunships, fired rockets. They say many have been killed.”
Mattie was stunned. She picked up her cell phone and hit Simon’s number. It rang and went dead. She tried again. The same thing happened.
“I have to go. I’m not supposed to talk to the guests.”
“Wait. Where can I find out if Simon’s alright?”
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe I should call the police?”
“No, not the police.”
“If you find out anything more can you tell me?”
“I’ll try.” The woman hugged Mattie, then left.
Mattie realized she was hyperventilating. She knew she needed to calm down. She knew she couldn’t. She had to find out what was going on, had to get to Simon. Had to do something.
She called the front desk. “My partner went on a tour of the Chiapas region and I haven’t heard from him. I understand there’s been some trouble there.”
“One moment, please.”
“Hello, Ms. Saunders? Can I help?”
“Who are you?”
“Head of hotel security. You said your husband is missing?”
Mattie repeated what she said.
“It’s just some local troublemakers. I’m sure your husband is fine. What tour was he with?”
“He went with friends.”
“Friends? Do you have their names?”
“One moment, please.”
This didn’t sound good. Damn Simon for getting mixed up in this. What was it Anne said, what he did in Canada could get him killed in Mexico? Maybe it had.
“Hello, Ms. Saunders.”
“I’ve contacted the authorities and they’ve suggested we take you to the local detachment headquarters in Cancun where you can give them details and fill out a missing person’s report.”
“I’ll be right down.”
Cancun was twelve miles and a different world away from Excellence Riviera Cancun. Mattie waited inside a dingy small office that smelled of grease and sweat. She’d perfected her story on the twenty-minute ride and had already recited it twice, once to a desk officer and again to a paunchy, dishevelled, middle-aged man with a droopy Pancho Villa moustache.
Detective Rodriguez listened intently, asked the occasional question and never took his eyes from her face. “I’m going to have to ask for your passport, Ms. Saunders.” He spoke excellent English.
Mattie gave him the document.
“I’ll check the information coming out of Oventic and be right back.” He left her alone.
Rodriguez returned twenty minutes later accompanied by a younger man dissimilar to him in almost every way. Detective Moreno was young, slim, clean-shaven and tailored with Ricky Martin good looks.
“Bodine, the guitar player for Seditious, you are his girlfriend?” Moreno said.
“Was.” Great. They’d done an internet search and probably one of Simon as well. Stick with the story. “What’s that got to do with finding Simon?”
“I love their music, have all their CDs. Bodine must be very rich, sold millions of albums, no?”
Rodriguez frowned, said something in Spanish and returned to his seat across the table from Mattie.
“Thank you for your patience, Ms. Saunders,” he said. “The situation in Oventic is fluid. It seems the government learned some individuals wanted on terrorist related charges would be attending a conference there and when they tried to make an arrest, came under fire. The soldiers returned fire and things escalated.” He shrugged.
“Have people been killed?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so. Your boyfriend, are you sure he wasn’t attending the conference?”
“What conference? He was touring the area with some people he met in the last few days.”
“The terrorists and their supporters have also taken some foreigners hostage.”
“Have you heard anything about Simon? Is he one of them?”
“One of the terrorist supporters or one of the foreign hostages?”
“Hostages, of course.”
Rodriguez raised his bushy eyebrows. “Not so far. The negotiations are ongoing.”
“What do they want? Money? I can pay.”
Moreno said something in Spanish.
“Excuse me.” Her interrogator and his companion went into the hall. A uniformed police officer arrived.
Rodriguez looked in the door. “We’re getting new information coming in for Oventic,” he said. “We’ll be right back. Until then, if you need anything, ask Officer Sanchez. He’ll be just in the hall.”
Mattie’s cell phone chimed. It was Anne.
“Mattie, is Simon with you?”
“No, he went to the conference and now I don’t know if he’s alive or dead.”
“Where are you?”
“In the police station in Cancun. They say the terrorists have taken hostages and Simon might be one of them.”
“Have they asked you for money?”
“No, but I offered to pay. Simon’s worth everything in the world to me.”
“Listen to me, Mattie. You need to get out of there, go someplace safe and call me back.”
“I’m in the police station surrounded by cops, how much safer can I be?”
“You’re not safe, Mattie. You’re in danger. There are no hostages in Oventic. The government took the opportunity of having all the Zapatista leadership in one place and sent in the army.”
“No, Anne, you’re wrong. It was a peaceful conference. A lot of boring talk, but no action.”
“It was a massacre, Mattie. Maybe it wasn’t supposed to be, but it was.”
“But how can you be sure, Anne, you’re in–”
“Mattie, I’m sorry, but you need to listen to me. There are no hostages. Simon may or may not be alive, but these guys won’t get him back. They’ll take your money and may even murder you.”
Mattie looked at the cop at the door. Maybe he wasn’t there in case she needed anything.
“Are you there, Mattie?”
“I’m going to make some calls and see who I can get to help you, but right now the best thing you can do is tell them it was a mistake, Simon’s been in touch with you, and get out of the station.”
“Anne, they seem–”
“Call me as soon as you can,” Anne said.
Mattie disconnected. Rodriguez and Moreno could come back any minute. If Anne was right, the chances of them letting her walk away weren’t great. She needed to act fast.
She stood up, swayed, then crumpled to the floor.
The officer hurried into the room and knelt beside her.
“I don’t feel good,” Mattie whispered. “Water. Aqua, por favor.”
As soon as he was out of the room, she crawled to the open door and looked out. To her right the hallway led to where she’d come in; a reception area with desks and staff. To her left the corridor continued with doors leading to rooms she imagined were similar to the one she was in. At the end was an illuminated exit sign in Spanish.
Her initial reaction was to try to get out the back exit. But in a city where a year ago the chief of police was kidnapped and beheaded, how likely was it going to be unlocked or unguarded. She also had to pass the open doors to several rooms, any of which could be where her interrogators were meeting.
She got up, grabbed her bag, stepped into the hall and walked toward the entrance. The first room she came to was empty. She went in, left the door open a crack, watched and listened.
Within seconds she heard the guard coming back from the reception area. She watched as he entered the interrogation room and immediately came out. He hesitated, then ran toward the back exit. Mattie took a deep breath, left the office and walked briskly toward the entrance. She emerged from the hall, crossed the open space looking straight ahead and left the way she’d come in.
Once outside, she turned right for a half block, then crossed the street and went into a restaurant. The place was packed with tourists, which for once was a relief. Mattie loitered in the foyer with a dozen other people waiting to be seated and watched the entrance to the police station across the street and down the block.
A minute later Morena burst out, followed by Rodriguez and four uniformed officers. They fanned out, the two detectives crossing the street and coming toward the restaurant. A city bus passed heading in the same direction, slowed and stopped outside the restaurant. Mattie stepped out the door, onto the bus, and handed the driver an American ten-dollar bill. As she walked to the back of the vehicle, she saw the two cops enter the restaurant.
Anne was right. Not about Simon. No, she wouldn’t accept that, but those detectives wouldn’t be pursuing her for failing to fill out a missing person’s report.
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