Archive for February, 2011

Bone Island Abattoir / Part 4, The Incrimination of Keith

February 16, 2011

Author’s note: This is the fourth book of The Shades of Hemingway series. While reading this installment, Bone Island Abattoir is complete in itself, it is recommended that the reader search out the beginning of this incredible story…

~

Jake Barnes is anxious but maintains an appearance of calm. I watch him drum his fingers on the table as a cigarette he has carelessly stubbed smolders itself out in the half shell ashtray. The conversation between Lord Cristobal and myself has taken a turn that he is unprepared for so he fidgets uncomfortably. As a detective, Jake must adapt to the situation so this requires him to observe and keep quiet. This seems difficult for a man accustomed to being in charge. Lord Cristobal implicating himself as being an accessory to the suicide of one of the most prolific American writers of the 20th century is a bit un-nerving but also appears to fascinate the big guy. The voodoo priest’s announcement is as solemn as a schoolboy’s confessional and matter-of-fact as a lifer in prison methodically detailing his crime without fear of reprisal or further incrimination. Lord Cristobal seldom had an audience with which he could embroil by his admission of guilt.

“The kyklos tod mene’ is a tool, part of the arsenal of the babalaos… a means of defense used against sedition from within the faith of the Vadou.” Lord Cristobal is seated once again and reflective, almost melancholy. “A priest can acquire many enemies, even from amidst his own followers.”

“But surely Hemingway was not your enemy, sir. He was not a threat to your faith or your position as babalaos. Yet you took this form of defense and used it aggressively against a man who raised and befriended you, why?”

“Yeah, and while you’re at it, explain why did you authorized it’s use on a cop from Key West?” Jake Barnes was emboldened to chime in but is stumbling on his verbiage. He looks at me and winks as if to say, “Don’t worry kid, ol’ Jake can still count the clues and add ‘em up.”

Lord Cristobal gives Detective Barnes a nod with renewed interest. I had not made the connection between my former friend, Keith, and the voodoo ritual employed by Lord Cristobal but now it made perfect sense. The reason why the shades were so interested in the death of Robert Jordan was because he had been done in by the same method used on Ernest Hemingway, a forced suicide. Lord Cristobal breathes heavily; burdened, I assumed, by his conscience.

“Sometimes a man’s drive for vengeance overrides his ability to think… or feel. My coming to Vadou was not of a pure motive, the power I sought was to inflict pain on my adversary. It was only afterwards, with reflection due to time and maturity, did I realize my error and poor judgement. My anger over my father’s death had choked my heart and turned it to stone. After Papa’s suicide, I realized I lost a great benefactor and friend. Suffering with belated grief, I swore never to use the kyklos tod mene’ in such a manner again.”

I looked at the old man’s fragile, leathery skinned hands and saw a slight tremble. Instinctively I reached out to touch and try to sooth him. Anselmo and guard approached immediately but Lord Cristobal lifted his free hand to stop them, then smiled sadly at me.

“I believe that with all I know about the shades of Hemingway, there is no animosity now in their realm of existence.” In my heart I knew this to be true and offered my sentiment free of any doubt or reservation. Lord Cristobal gratefully nodded his head and softly spoke a low chant I could not understand.

“But what of Keith and Officer Jordan? Where does this Kinkos tomfoolery fit into that?” It was Jake again, impatiently waiting for an answer to the garbled question he had asked moments before. I became confused.

“Jake, I thought Robert Jordan died in the line of duty. What makes you believe Keith and the kyklos tod mene’ were involved?”  I knew somehow the voodoo ritual had been used because of the information Papa had shared with me back in Key West, but I could not make the connection to Keith.  Jake’s mental wheels were grinding, his years on the force had built into him an ability to deduce the clues that were right in front of me… his bullshit detector was firing on all cylinders.

“Keith was somewhat exposed to this guy, wasn’t he?”  Jake points a thumb towards Lord Cristobal.  “He had to have access to the beliefs and practices of the voodoo religion. Ain’t that right?” His question was directed to our host who nodded grimly. “Jordan was killed in the line of duty, but not in typical fashion. He shot himself trying to protect someone else.”

“Then it was an accident?” I had overlooked Keith’s loose affliation with the Vadou faith.

“That’s the way it was logged at the time for simplicity, the details were just too freaky. The department thought it best to make it an open and shut case… cut’n’dry… a closed book. But I’ve always had my suspicions otherwise.”

“You mean like a cover up?”

“I mean like a simmerin’ stew with the lid clamped down. Fuhgettabout it, kid… it’s all in the past.”

“But he was Brett’s brother.”

Anselmo approached and leaned low to Lord Cristobal’s ear with a whisper, who nodded then again pulled away from the table to stand.

“I regret I have to end our discussion, gentlemen. I trust you can find your way to your room?”

The guard stepped up as our apparent escort. Jake looked across the table to me and shrugged. I rose and Jake followed, I reached out to shake the hand of the voodoo priest and he weakly accepted my gesture, as if the topic of our conversation had suddenly sapped his strength. Lord Cristobal then shook hands with Jake Barnes.

“I appreciate your takin’ us in, sir.” Jake began, “I guess the arrangements with your government will bring our visit here to a close tomorrow?” I looked questioningly at Jake but he shook his head slightly. “I’ll fill you in later, kid.” I had Jake’s confidence and that reassured me a bit. Lord Cristobal agreed with Jake then allowed himself to be led away by Anselmo.

Jake and I had set out for the same thing, the rescue of Brett Jordan, but now my attention was drawn more on the circumstances surrounding the death of Ernest Hemingway and the similarities to Robert Jordan’s demise. If he had shot himself protecting someone else, who was it and how did it involve the Kyklos tod mene’ as a forced suicide? It seemed the closer I got to solving the riddle the more confusing it got. Rachel had been here, but how? Who had brought her here and where was she now? I found myself grateful for the fact that Jake Barnes was there with me as we formed our alliance. I imagined him to be the big brother most kids wished they had growing up. It was easy to feel confident with him in your corner.

We marched back up the stairs to our room with the guard following close behind. I could not help but wonder for as big as the Villa Vinales de Eden was why Jake and I remained sharing a room but figured since Jake had initially thought I was a criminal we would have to make the best of the arrangement. Jake had an overnight bag and offered to let me use some of his toiletries, so with the guard strategically standing out on the balcony keeping one eye on the doorways between our room and the bathroom at the head of the stairs, we both managed to prepare ourselves for bed.

As Jake took his turn in the bathroom, I lay on the bed and stared up at the ceiling thinking of Naty Revuelta and her mother leaving me at the entrance to the Villa earlier that day. Originally we had said she should return in an hour, then every half hour until I appeared at the gate again but that had been six hours ago. I knew that she would have given up way before now and wondered what she was doing, knowing I was still confined here. Did she imagine I was alive or dead? I came to regret having involved her and her family in all of the drama. I knew it was the last thing she needed then and I had no way to contact her to let her know I was all right.  Soon Jake returned.

“I hope you’re not a light sleeper.” He announced, plopping down on his side of the bed, removing his shirt and trousers. I had not slept with another male since grade school and I felt uncomfortable with the ease Jake displayed while I lay on top of the bedspread fully clothed.  “Why do you suppose we couldn’t have our own room, I mean… you told him I was no longer a suspect, right?”

Jake shrugged and pulled the spread back and bounced in between the sheets.  He pulled off his wristwatch, double checked the time and then placed it on the end table. He pulled a cigarette out of the pack he had lying there and lit it, propping one arm behind his head and laying his head back on it. He took a drag then exhaled, pursing his lips and letting the smoke shoot out with a chuckle that sounded like steam escaping.

“You don’t mind if I open the window, do you? The smoke kinda gets to me.”

Jake shrugged then added, “Just don’t trip the alarm, kid.”

“How ‘bout I leave the screen on?”

“That should do it.”

I walked over and let the right side of the window fully roll out, allowing the tropical breeze to filter in through the untouched screen. There was no couch or easy chair, just the hard backed seat I had been tied to earlier. I walked over to the bed and surveyed the room I had, imagining a center line splitting the mattress in two and Jake’s bulky figure crowding my side.

“Relax, Maryann… you’re not my type.”

“No… it’s not that, it’s just as big as this place is…” I let my voice trail off.

“Why are we sharing a room? I don’t know, kid… there’s some stuff here that don’t add up, I’m sure of that. But I don’t think we look like a mister ‘n’ misses… you catch my drift? It’s probably just an oversight so don’t worry ‘bout it. We’ll be outta here tomorrow.”

“How can you be sure?”

I sit down on the edge like my butt is a toe checking the temperature of swimming pool water, ready to lurch back up should I feel too uncomfortable.

“Look, my department has been working with these Cuban Nationals trying to get a handle on this human trafficking business for some time and if my hunch serves me correctly your friend Keith is our guy.”

“You thought I was your guy a little while ago.”

Jake turns his head giving me the once over. “And who kicked who in the balls?”

“Okay, ya gotta right to be sore.” I kicked off my shoes and carefully lay back on the bed. Jake chuckled, took another drag off his cigarette then flicked the ash off on the floor.

“Besides… it was kinda odd that you showed up.”

Now it was my turn to give him the once over. “Well, I sure as hell did not expect to find you here.”

“What did you expect?”

“I dunno, Jake… since arriving here with Sgt. Garcia I was more or less just letting the spirits move me.” I thought I was being humorous but Jake’s face snapped back at me in disbelief.

“Garcia brought you to the Villa?”

“No, someone else. Why, what’s up?” He turns his head back and relaxes.

“Nothing, fuhgettaboutit.”

“Jake… I’ve been up front with you from the get go…”

Jake Barnes stubs his cigarette out on the half shell ashtray, places it back on the end table then cradles his head with both of massive arms propping his head up off the pillow and exhales a smoke stack shooting up towards the ceiling.

“I probably shouldn’t be tellin’ you this, I don’t know why I am but here goes… remember I told you Robert killed himself trying to protect someone?”

I nodded, watching Jake’s face grow soft, half silhouetted by the table lamp on his side of the bed. I knew why Jake was talking to me. It was the shades, every bit of my interaction with Lord Cristobal had been under their direction, Jake must have felt it, too.

“A year or so ago, Brett and her brother had shared a house together. Nice place, more than I could afford. Anyway, we’ve been workin’ on this human trafficking case, which turns into a kidnaping racket run by some guy with connections in Cuba holding an American couple for ransom. Brett’s the lead detective on it, I’m brought in later as her sidekick. Evidence builds, names and places, appears to be an inside job with someone from our department. Next thing you know… a call comes in that Brett is distraught… threatenin’ to shoot herself, holed up in the house and won’t come out. Robert’s on patrol and rushes over, because it’s his sister, ya know? She lets him in, tells him it’s all over and she’s gonna do herself right there in the kitchen. Robert manages to get close enough and they struggle for the gun. Next thing you know, Robert has his finger on the trigger and the gun goes off. Brett blames herself and spends months getting help trying to cope with the guilt.”

“God, that’s terrible! What about the case, the leads and evidence you had?”

“Case goes cold, evidence gets misplaced or destroyed, Brett loses interest and almost leaves the department. She’s just recently been cleared for duty.”

“So whatever drove her to try and kill herself was never discovered?”

I know I’m pressing Jake into divulging more than he wanted to but I am still at a loss trying to figure out where a suicide ritual fit into Robert Jordan’s death. By all accounts it appeared to be an accident. Even though Brett had initiated a suicide attempt that had been thwarted by her brother’s intervention and fatal shooting. Jake rolled over on his side facing away from me.

“It’s a funny business, kid… law enforcement. New cases come and gain priority, old ones fall by the wayside and cool off. I guess, the original Americans held hostage paid up and didn’t wanna press charges fearing the publicity.  Jordan’s death really shook up the department so we were more than willin’ to let it drop… until recently, that is.”

“Another kidnaping?”

“Yeah, guess the S.O.B. that got away with it once figured it was time to try it again. Crooks rarely do the one time deal then fade off… they become bolder, kinda like a gambler, feelin’ they’ve beat the system once and can do it again.”

“Now you’re on the case as lead dog?”

I was proud to use a phrase I picked up from a T.V. show. I felt like I was a regular cop sharing inside, privileged lingo.  Jake keeps his back to me but turns his head to speak over his shoulder.

“I wouldn’t be layin’ here with your limp dick if I wasn’t!”  Then he turned his head back around and murmured to himself, “At least, it’d friggin’ BETTER be limp.”

And with that he dozed off.

Bone Island Abattoir / Part 3, The Lowdown on the Highbrow

February 6, 2011

Author’s note: This is the fourth book of The Shades of Hemingway series. While reading this installment, Bone Island Abattoir is complete in itself, it is recommended that the reader search out the beginning of this incredible story…

~

On the opposite side of the large shaded veranda where Lord Cristobal had received me earlier the household staff was setting up a long dining table. Tiki styled lanterns burning on the outside perimeter made scarecrow shadows on the villa’s walls. I had been seated first off the head of the table on one end, Jake approached accompanied by another guard and sat down across from me, leaving the seat at the end open for our “host”. The Key West detective seemed to take the security measures in stride and even thanked the guard for his company. He looked over at me and nodded.

“Some digs, huh?”

And he was right. Though we were settled back into a semi-tropically wooded area, the villa was immaculate in every detail. Even our dining table, with place settings for three, had a spread of utensils that rivaled a five-star restaurant. As I scanned the plates, cups and saucers, along with the knives, forks and spoons a thought occurred to me. I reached out and palmed a short butter knife and eased it down into my lap. Jake witnessed my lame attempt to sneak the instrument without drawing attention to myself and snorted a chuckle to himself. A five inch long butter knife made a poor choice for a weapon, but I found it comforting even though it would be too dull to even cut rope. However, I discovered later that I would have nothing to worry about. Jake and I were drawn to Lord Cristobal’s light steps clicking on the terra cotta tiles which made us both look up to see his approach. Lord Cristobal’s companion, Anselmo, was following close behind.

“Welcome to my table, gentlemen, I trust I did not keep you waiting long?”

“Nope… no, we just sat down ourselves.” Jake was jovial enough.

“How are you, Mr. Fiore? I regret the accommodations earlier were not suitable for your needs…”

“Oh…? Other than being tied to a chair, having to piss out a window, and having guns drawn on me… I’d say the room was swell.” I was attempting to joke.

“Those ropes won’t be necessary any longer,” interrupted Jake, “ I’m satisfied Mr. Fiore is not the suspect I originally thought he was.”

I looked at Jake in mild surprise but he just gave a slight shrug and continued on.

“What I’m really interested in is finding out where Brett Jordan is. I know she’s been here and now I want to know where she has been taken.”

A servant appeared with wine and offered it to Lord Cristobal for his approval as he sat down with us. Lord Cristobal nodded slightly and the steward poured for each of us. Lord Cristobal seemed amused at Jake’s remark.

“Taken, Detective? What makes you think Miss Jordan was taken anywhere, or that she has been here, for that matter? I thought we had discussed this earlier to your satisfaction.” Lord Cristobal raised his glass to us and then began to drink.

“Mr. Fiore recognized her blazer up in the room you so graciously supplied for us while you checked out my story… and his.”

Lord Cristobal turned and gave me a slight nod with a thoughtful smile.
“It seems you know more about the goings on at the Villa Vinales de Eden than I first realized, Mr. Fiore” He drank again, watching me through the glass.

“More than I want to know, sir. But my interests are the same as Detective Barnes, I just want to find Brett and get back to the States.”

“And your friends, the spirits… these shades that you had spoken to me of earlier, they sent you on this admirable quest?”

Jake Barnes looked at me questioningly but I did not take time to explain. I knew that the time for explanations was gone, it was time to lay my cards on the table. Anselmo stood idly by a few feet away so I lowered my voice.

“It is the kyklos tod mene’ that brings me here, sir. The spirits have been disrupted with an innocent death… a forced suicide. You are the babalaos, looked up to by your people and highly respected by the Cuban government. Somehow I believe your influence has been altered or misapplied in the carrying out of your ritual, I can offer no other logical explanation as to why there would be such turmoil in the spirit realm.”

I could sense Jake’s bewilderment at the content of my conversation with Lord Cristobal but he remained mute. As Lord Cristobal pondered a reply his servants appeared with trays of prepared food, allowing the voodoo priest to refrain from speaking momentarily. The first server set his tray down and removed it’s cover. It contained deep-fried pork chunks marinated in Cuban mojo and seasoned grilled onions. Another tray was set before us containing grilled chicken breast marinated in garlic and lemon topped with grilled onions. Smaller bowls were produced filled with moro rice, yuca con mojo, and sweet plantains.

“Please,” Lord Cristobal concluded, “you are my guests. Shall we desist long enough to enjoy the flavors of my country?”

I had to admit that I was more than ready to eat as I managed to slip the butter knife into my pants pocket undetected. Jake enthusiastically indulged himself with large portions of everything. I realized it had been some hours since I had eaten because my stomach leapfrogged and croaked in appreciation. We ate silently except for smidgens of polite conversation. Lord Cristobal did not seem to mind that Jake had called his bluff on Brett Jordans having been there before us.

In fact, he seemed amused by it all, like our inquiry was a game to be played with rules that he made up as we went along. The clues were to be divulged only amidst our own perceptions thus prolonging its outcome. It was as if Lord Cristobal were toying with us for lack of better company, ready to dismiss us when he became bored. I decided to change my tactics, perhaps emboldened by Jake’s clearing me of suspicion or sensing our “host” could turn hostile at any moment and our meal was nearly finished. Anselmo still remained a silent sentry.

“I wonder if you could tell me how one becomes a babalaos when he started off as a ward of Ernest Hemingway? I mean, was this something he directed you in or were there other circumstances?”

I knew Jake would have no bearing on this line of questioning and hoped the built-in “bullshit detector” he bragged of in Brett’s apartment would come into play now. Perhaps Jake’s training as a detective could glean some unintentional clues from Lord Cristobal on Brett’s whereabouts as we politely left him out of the conversation. I thought maybe Jake’s instincts would kick in as I tried to use a more direct approach on Lord Cristobal. Unfortunately, they did not.

“What the Hell is a babalaos?” Jake bellowed..

Lord Cristobal did not bother to look at Jake but addressed me with continued resolve, Anselmo’s interest in Jake seemed acute as he glared at him.

“Did your sources not educate you on this fact?”

“No sir, the shades have informed me that there are some things they can not disclose.”

I looked over at Jake and he had taken his cue to remain silent from Lord Cristobal’s snub. Jake lit a cigarette and listened begrudgingly. Lord Cristobal followed my eyes and gave a tight-lipped smile in Jake’s direction. He then allowed himself to relax and reflect momentarily.
“Very well, and you spoke truly… there are limits to what the shades can divulge, Mr. Fiore. You certainly do have their trust and guidance. Hemingway raised me as a Catholic, a religion he found very convenient.”

“Oh? How so?” I was as casual on the outside as my nerves would allow.

“Because of their proselytizing ways they have had moderate success in Africa and Cuba. It seemed natural that I would adapt to his culture and beliefs.”

“But you did not?”

“As a youth one must follow the hand that guides him, but the ancient faith of my people is strong here in Cuba. My family knew it. That is why they requested Hemingway bring me back with him. I would grow up and respond to the call of Vadou, it is in our blood. I would eventually avenge the death of my father.”

“The accidental death of Tenete’, Papa’s safari guide?”

“He was mauled to death by a lion Hemingway should have killed… would have killed, had he not panicked and jammed his rifle.

“But wasn’t that Tenete’s duty as Papa’s companion, to guide and protect him?”

“Hemingway was an experienced hunter. His lack of a quick response was inexcusable. My father’s death was certainly avoidable and created much hardship on my family.”

“So you became a voodoo priest to avenge your father’s death?”

Jake Barnes shifted noticeably in his seat, uncomfortable in his position as an observer. Quite likely he was not accustomed to someone else leading the questioning and hoped to get a word in, but lacked the understanding to do so. I paused with my last question, surprised at my own aggressive behavior and slowly wondering whether I had over stepped my bounds. But the fact that I had the shades confidence must have carried some weight with Lord Cristobal because he did not show any signs of taking offense.

“I felt the blood of my ancestors in the Vadou traditions of Cuba as a young man. With the teachings of the Catholic church I was an outsider, a convert… a Hemingway progeny. Within the faith of Vadou I was free, I was home. I abandoned Hemingway’s religion and discovered my calling. I discarded the name “Miller” and took the name Cristobal from the Roman Catholic Metropolitan Archdiocese and eventually became babalaos, spiritual guide and priest of the Vadou faithful.”

“You’re sayin’ Brett’s caught up in all this voodoo mumbo jumbo?” It was Jake… unable to contain himself. I corrected him without thinking, forgetting the warning I had received from the shades.

“Not Brett, Jake… Keith, remember I mentioned him earlier? He’s the one that started me in this mess.” I realized my mistake immediately.

Servants appeared to remove our plates and offer a desert consisting of a blend of fruits but Lord Cristobal waved them away. If he had been respectful before he was more direct now, Lord Cristobal had subtle disdain in his tone.

“You know of this man, Keith?” Lord Cristobal gave me a sideways look with a raised eyebrow. Even Anselmo appeared interested as I glanced his way.

“Yes, I do. He is the reason I am here.”

“I thought your reasons coincided with Mr. Barnes, the locating of Brett Jordan?” Lord Cristobal laconically replied.

“If it weren’t for Keith I wouldn’t have ever gone to Key West and come to be in the predicament I am in now.”

Lord Cristobal’s pretense of a genteel host was fading. Jake sensed it and stubbed his cigarette out on a half-shell ashtray while exhaling his last draw of smoke downward and giving me that “caught by the principal” crinkled brow look from across the table.

“If I doubted you before I do not do so now, Mr. Fiore. The shades do guide you, but Papa should have informed you… Keith is no longer a fringe associate of mine. Further more, his involvement with the Cuban government has taken a severe turn for the worse. Keith is losing the assistance of the Castro regime he had due to my influence and no longer enjoys the sanctity of Vadou within my control. I’m afraid any involvement you have with him will compromise my hospitality.” Lord Cristobal rose from the table as if to dismiss us and depart. Anselmo stepped closer and summoned a guard that was watching us further in the shadows. My mind scrambled for any statement I might make to make him reconsider.

“You refer to his holding Americans for ransom here in Cuba, I presume?”

Jake lit another cigarette, the conversation was finally rotating back to a subject he was most keen on. He leaned back in his seat, looked up at our “host” and raised his eyebrows with a questioning expression.

“That was never part of our arrangement,” Lord Cristobal turned to acknowledge Jake then again addressed me. “Keith saw the immigrating of Cubans into the United States as an opportunity to use his connections to ransom Americans and hold them here until their release. Something the Cuban government nor myself had any prior knowledge of. Keith’s actions threatened a budding relationship between our governments.”

“What budding relationship?” Jake Barnes retorted, “The American government has sanctions against this communistic regime. It hasn’t budged in it’s stance in nearly 40 years.”

Lord Cristobal relaxed a little. He waved off the armed guard and spoke a word to his aide, who then retreated back to his original position. The fact that we were intruders in his country, his villa and his dining table was not lost in his decorum, but he remained gracious… a stance that harkened to royalty, where bad manners were no excuse to reciprocate in kind.

“And what of the kyklos tod mene’ and the death of the Key West policeman Robert Jordan?” I inquired, sensing we had softened the voodoo priest. “I’m still not clear how the shades have become involved in his seeming so displaced. Is there someone else who controls the forces of Vadou?”

“I have only used the techniques of the kyklos tod mene’ once since my anointment as babalaos,” Lord Cristobal looked at me solemnly, “against a man I had sworn to cause suffering to, as I and my family had suffered. But that was long ago…”

A cold shiver convulsed through my body with a realization that I had not counted on. Suddenly a solid piece of the puzzle became apparent. Why the shades had become involved with Robert Jordan, the method used to cause his death and the reason they would be interested.

“You mean,” my words seemed to be spoken by someone else, similar to the difficulty you have hearing when you are talking under water, “it was the kyklos tod mene’ that forced Hemingway’s suicide?”