Highs in the Mid-Forties

He paused on the last metal step, cold gray eyes quartering the misty runway from under his snapbrim. He stepped down, turning up the collar of his trenchcoat against the wind that rippled the oil-slicked rainwater on the tarmac. Behind him the engines of the big Trimotor kept turning, staying warmed-up for the jump into the altitudes of oblivion. Was she going to show? Or would he climb back up those steps and disappear into the dark, dank blankness that should have been their future? Denny Mercer looked around, took a last pull on a rumpled Lucky Strike and tossed it into an oily puddle. One thing you could count on about dames: you can’t count on one thing about dames. No, wait, that must be her now. And, whattaya know, mighty easy on the eyes. Heading right over towards him with a great big smile. Looks like trouble. The usual kind. Female.

Lluvia had no trouble spotting Mr. Mercer in the Chetumal bus station. He was the only gringo climbing down out of the bus from Cancun. But he didn’t seem to see her. Looked a little dazed, in fact. She walked up to him and said, “Denny Mercer?”

Denny did his usual slip-shift out of his fantasizing (aided this time by a joint shared in the washroom of the ADO bus with two shaggy kids fresh out of the Israeli Army and cruising Mexico for thrills). He’d spoken to Lluvia once, calling the museum from the CUN airport to give her an arrival time.

The museum staff had arranged for an English-speaking secretary to pick him up and assist him in his inquiries into the Dr. Chiang situation, which they clearly saw as potentially embarrassing. And who else but Lluvia, who’d been very concerned about Doctora Chiang and uneasy over the way she just vanished three weeks ago.

She stood looking at Denny, waiting for his response, while he looked her over. Both liked what they were looking at, but neither thought of it that way. Some guy passing through on business, some skirt who’d be there when he strode off into the sunset. He said, “A guy on the bus told me Lluvia means ‘rain’.”

Not the sort of opener she was used to, but then she wasn’t used to seeing men walk around in the tropical summer wearing belted raincoats and felt fedoras, either. Maybe reporters from the United States always dressed like that. “Yes,” she said, flustered that there seemed little to add. “Do you have luggage?”

Denny hefted the pre-war leather satchel he’d carried on. “This is it. I’m a man who travels light.”

She nodded then, for lack of any further conversational ideas, pointed to the wide front portal. “I have my car out front.”

Denny headed for the door beside her, swinging his bag. “Nice of you to come pick me up. I guess it beats sitting around the office, huh?”

“I voluntaried to come,” she told him. “I liked Dra. Chiang. And yes, to getting out from the office.”

“So you’re going to help me out? Translate for me?”

“Yes, it’s my assignment this week. Help you investigate.”

“Sounds good. Can we go where she was last seen?”

“I booked a room for you in the Ucum hotel. It is cheap and near Museum. If you don’t like it, I can…”

“Great, great. Thanks a lot. But…”

She wasn’t there. He looked back and she was unlocking a jaunty little red Tsuru. He came back and got in, immediately breaking a sweat all over. He took off his fedora and wiped his brow as she backed out and headed out of the parking lot. It looked like quite a way into town. Kind of weird for a bus station. He said, “I was thinking I’d go straight to the museum, maybe get some leads. Where she was last seen, that stuff. Detective kind of stuff, you understand.”

She cut her eyes at him. “You’re not a reporter?”

Oops. He’d forgotten about that. Either the heat or the strangeness of Mexico or this cute interpreter was taking the edge off his usually razor-stropped brain. He looked at her and lowered his voice so nobody else in the car could hear. “I’m an investigator,” he told her. “Helping people who are concerned about Ms. Chiang. I have my suspicions, you see what I mean? It’s what I do.”

It actually impressed her. She was a fairly simple girl, all told, and an addict of American films. Had seen Casablanca seven times; not that easy in Mexico. She paused, then plunged. “I have also my suspicious. Please can we go somewhere first, talk. I want you to know the Museum… situation… before you go there.”

“Sounds good to me. I can see you’re going to be a big help.”

“I know a really nice coffee place?”

“Perfect. I’ll knock off for a cuppa java any place on earth.”

Lluvia giggled. “But this place is not on earth.”

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