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

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?”

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