One by Land, Two by Sea

For some reason, people don’t think of Isla Mujeres or Cozumel as “Caribbean Islands”, maybe because they’re in Mexico. So what is that water around them, French Onion Soup? Of course nobody thinks of Cuba as a “Caribbean Island”, either. Much less Haiti.
Seagull, in The Blasé Sojourner.

Okay, so now Aphra had made Doctor Mayflower… Well, “made” in the “target acquired” sense, not in the “had one’s wicked way with” way. Which was looking like an appealing way, no two ways: Ms. MeiMei was truly a beauty. Serene, refined kind of look. Slender and in good working condition, from the look of things. Delicate features and bruiseable lips. Cupcake tits with prominent nips. Got that Kuan Yin thing going. Aphra getting a bit of yen, her own self. Getting sideways, so to speak. Whole new slant on things.

Trouble being, other parties are showing signs of acquisitiveness towards her target. Namely this kind of doughy-looking little cat with prescription Ray-Bans. Trying to look like a chopper pilot instead of Asiatic software nerd or some such. Maybe not so much Asian, kind of semi-Hispanic. Oh, what else…a Flip. Plain brown Manila wrapper. Looks more like a econ prof than a busboy or horn player, though. And sure as hell talks like one, more hand movement than an Italian, you can almost see him pointing to the board with a piece of chalk every other word. Bottom line: not much of a threat to acquiring the target, in whichever sense of the term.

Whoops, spoke too soon: he’s squiring her out of the Zama, where the cutesy white muslin drapes have started billowing and snapping like the New Age Fleet caught in a typhoon. Time for tried and true tradecraft: follow that car.

Definitely not a Mexican ambiance, MeiMei thought as O.B. Tuan led her to the promised Cuban cuisine at El Veradero. Much more “Caribbean” in feel. Like some tidewater shanty in Jamaica. Or, of course, Cuba. When she’d glanced at the rusting wrecks of dinosaur-looking trucks that would have looked at home in a Mad Max sequel, Tuan explained that they were Cuban Army surplus.

“Hard to believe there’s anything surplus in Cuba.”

“Well these people are definitely surplus Cubans. And don’t let you forget it.”

She liked Veradero from the moment she walked over the rickety gangplank to get to the airy shack resting on pilings in the greenish lagoon water. The fuzzy palapa roof, the big plastic net floats and boat bumpers draped around the railings, the corroded bronze portholes and bell, the eaves festooned with frayed old rope of every size, material and condition. The chubby black owner nodding to them absently as if it would be the same to her if they ordered food or jumped over the rail.

Their table was half inside a horseshoe-shaped structure that was obviously a pilothouse taken off some nautical failure or another. The stilthouse shack was hemmed in on the land side by the debris and detritus usual to maintenance of fishing fleets and repair of vessels. And the lagoon side was a jumble of boats ranging from one-motor pangas laden with coolers and nets and lobster traps to billfishermen with high spotting towers to big floating pleasure pits sleek as Ferraris and ponderous as corporate architecture.

Once orders were placed for mojitos, seabass in key lime juice, fried bananas and something called moros y cristianos (which turned out to be black beans and rice, not a rematch of the Crusades) MeiMei led Tuan into a discussion of island residents and visitors. She’d already spotted where she would eventually lead him, and he was willing to follow. “It’s the Last Caribbean Island,” he told her. “Still fairly affordable and no image baggage. Becoming quite the place to have a place or moor your power cruiser out of Galveston or Lauderdale.”

“Well it’s a perfect sheltered lagoon.”

“Exactly. I haul my own boat in here if anything big blows through. It’s kind of like Key West, one of those spots where everybody competes for some sort of obscure status based on how long they’ve been coming here. Back before they paved the streets. Before the ferry service went in. Before all that upheaval back in the Pre-Cambrian.”

“So is it The Caribe, or the Mayan Riviera? Seem like two exclusive concepts.”

“The ‘Riviera’ won hands-down. A Riviera close to home where things aren’t all nailed down yet. And not just the land, you know. Lots of film people lately, buying up expensive places or building monstrosities. Mostly just providing somebody we can look down on from below.”

“You’ve got to be talking about the people who own these yachts.”

“I’m actually a bit of mole in that set. Not the big power squadron types with onboard swimming pools and bowling alleys, but I can hobnob with them at the tournaments. Boats are as great an equalizer as the six-gun ever was.”

“But, you’re a sailor. No stinkpots for you.” She recalled that term from crowd at Leschi and Shilshole when she was dating a Boeing designer otherwise normal, but addicted to Duck Boat racing in a hand-laid Dutch double-ender.

“Exactly. I wouldn’t trade my ‘Boolean’ for any of these sea-going condos.”

And there was her opening. She pointed south, at a fenced swaging yard obviously capable of overhauling some pretty major yachts. And the mini-liner moored across the channel from it. “You mean you don’t secretly crave a helicopter onboard? Be nice for making ice cube runs to shore.”

Tuan rolled his eyes. “That sort of extravagance was put on earth to help the rest of us feel self-righteous and modest by comparison.”

“Who owns it, the Sultan of Brownai? Donald Trump? Airwatch Traffic?”

Chilango plutocrat… possibly narcocrat… named Ronchel. Not a local. Not even part-time local. Just put in for refitting. Everybody jabbered about it for a week but now we snub it.”

Ronchel. That was the guy. She stared at the yacht: the Nahual, registered out of Mexico City. An area renown for its seaports. “So if it’s refitting, why is across the channel from the yard? Must make it tough on the workers.”

“He’s been moving it every day, two pangas snubbing it over. Snubbing that boat is a cottage industry around here. They’ve got heavy security on it but seem to feel safer over there.”

“Probably pirates with treasure chests and ill-gotten swag below decks.” She looked at the huge blue hull again and said, “But any rival pirates worth their grog could just sneak up on the other side.”

“Not likely,” Tuan said, mashing his sautéed bananas into the heavy cream that MeiMei had avoided. “You’re not seeing an island with trees on it over there. It’s mangrove; a seething pile of woody spaghetti. You can’t walk through it, nothing underfoot if you try to cut a path. It’s about as impassable as any veggie patch on earth. Teeming with wildlife, of course. It’s illegal to clear-cut it now. Probably why there’s no condos on that side.”

“Well, I guess all they have to worry about is submarines and SCUBA divers.”

“Well subs and SEALS worry us all. But I’d be more on the lookout for ninjas.”

“Hard to tell them apart. Don’t they both wear those sinister black hoods?”

Aphra smiled at that. She had moseyed out onto the deck, shared some non-verbal sistah-hood with the proprietor and now nursed a Cuba Libre at a table within earshot, but out of view because of the wheelhouse. Thinking, You can’t tell your sinister black hoods by looking at them, Chinadoll. I got the feeling the girl is steering the Flip towards something here. Well, I got a front row seat. To hear Dr. May push it a hair too far, as it turned out, and get bit right on her curvaceous ass.

Staring at Ronchel’s boat, where she was becoming certain her jade slab was sequestered, she was thinking out loud. “But some sort of skin diver could get over there, come up from the land side where they’re not watching…”

Aphra heard the Flip geek’s fork ring on the plate as he dropped it and stood. And heard him say, “I was just thinking I could hang on your every word, but you made a liar out of me. I definitely didn’t want to hear that.” He came out from behind the wheelhouse under a head of steam. Over his shoulder he said, really pissy, actually, “Or any more of it.”

“What???” The chink chick sounded genuinely surprised at his sudden change in tack. He turned and answered, handing Aphra a big piece of her ongoing puzzle vis-à-vis Missy May.

“You’ve heard about his collection, I gather. And that he keeps the cream of it on board. And come chat me up, beautiful young woman claiming to be a noted archeologist…”

“I don’t know about ‘noted’, but I am who I say I am.” She fumbled for her wallet, held up her license.

“Okay, so you’re a Mayan freak and know he’s got some unique artifacts. Not a state secret, exactly. And can’t stand them being in private hands.”

“Heritage belongs to the people.” She’d been stung by the accusation, flustered because it was true, but was starting to get pissed about his attitude.

“Very good, Indiana. And he’s not people? His guests aren’t? The people’s servants tend to lock things like that up in special collections, don’t they? Where the only people who can examine them are, oh, you know, noted archaeologists.”

“Look, that’s…”

“So you hook me into helping you case the scene. There’s other meanings of ‘accessory” than cute purses, honey. I’m a foreigner in Mexico. Basically I don’t have any legal rights.” He stalked off, tossing a big bill at waitress, but turned. “Something you might keep in mind yourself.”

Aphra was thinking over the implications of all this development, getting down for her move, when she heard MeiMei speak softly to herself. “Damn. I gotta take some courses in not driving men off like an African bush-beater. Maybe there’s some sort of degeeking chamber I can rent.”

I got my own views on that one, Aphra thought as she rose and headed around to intrude on the good doctor’s table.

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