Doc Macomber’s novel, Riff Raff, was selected as one of the Top Ten Finalists for the Killer Nashville Claymore Award for the first 50 pages of an unpublished novel not currently under contract. The winner of the prestigious award was announced on August 27th at the Tennessee conference.
Book Title: RIFF RAFF
Author: Doc Macomber
Genre: Detective Murder Mystery
Release date Nov 21, 2011
The Indian boy’s sagging corpse, seated high in the rainforest canopy, inexplicably sported a NY Yankee baseball cap. The grisly discovery made by a mischievous capuchin shakes loose a deadly eyelash viper and a stack of blood-splattered money, triggering a chain reaction which includes: a driven eco-activist, a reclusive expat soldier, drug cartels, indigenous Indians, cruise ship tourists, and two burnt out Americans who arrived in Costa Rica for a much needed rest. The Vietnamese investigator and his flame-haired pathologist lover soon find themselves on a “working vacation”.
“Doc Macomber takes us to the strikingly beautiful, yet deadly Costa Rican rainforest. There, we follow the trail of a cast of characters as lush and dangerous as the forest itself. Chapter by chapter, I felt myself drawn to Jack and Betty, the mysterious Lyman, the strong-willed Maria Sanchez and so many others–including the feisty monkey for whom the book is named. Riff Raff is a must-read.”
—Bill Cameron, Spotted Owl Award winning author of County Line
“Terrible things happen in the most beautiful places. Riff Raff’s stunning Costa Rican setting only underscores the dark dealings underneath a picture-perfect surface. Doc Macomber takes readers on a twisted ride through the rainforest.”
—Hilary Davidson, Award winning author of The Damage Done and The Next One to Fall
For Birdie, my sweet girl of paradise…
Lyman crouched low and squinted through the spotting scope. His target vaulted through the Costa Rican rainforest canopy fifty meters ahead, but was losing strength. The forest’s chaotic symphony was silenced by a toucan’s shrill warning as Lyman lowered the scope and pushed on through the heavy foliage. White bats glared and fanged spiders scurried in his wake.
Massive hanging strangler vines scraped his arms raw. Ducking beneath a low-hanging termite hive, Lyman snagged his large backpack on a barbed manchineel limb and stumbled. Cautious of the poisonous thistles, he slowly untangled himself and moved to more solid ground. He stared down at his muddy combat boots, the ground underfoot suddenly felt oddly hollow. He rocked forward, detected a brittle snap. Locking his weight evenly over both feet, he eased down, pulled a K-bar strapped to his ankle and carefully nosed the razor-sharp point of the blade under the saturated vegetation.
Lyman’s mind ratcheted back to the invasion of Panama. The memory still haunted him. The jungle surrounding one of Noriega’s hideouts had been choked with trip snares and explosives. One wrong step had taken a former soldier’s life and nearly his own.
A spooked Kinkajou flattened his furry raccoon-like body behind a rotting log. The blade revealed nothing but a crumbling palm pod.
Lyman torqued down his caution and continued on. With his free hand latched onto a fig vine, he muscled his body onto a volcanic rock and maneuvered up a narrow ridge. Up ahead, a whiskered, white-face capuchin peered out from behind a mahogany trunk, his ancient eyes searching the forest floor.
Unseasonably heavy rains and mud slides had washed out much of the area near Manuel Antonio. Even the Ticos, Costa Rican natives, avoided the slippery mangrove swamps until the dry season arrived. It was simply too dangerous to traverse. This suited Lyman fine.
He jacked through the sodden wetlands until he reached a clearing. His clothes clung to his body like sap, weighing him down. He shrugged off his backpack, sluiced a handkerchief across his dripping face and contemplated his next move. He vibed their close proximity. He was sure of it. Tepid water from his canteen recharged his strength. Bracing his shoulder against an ironwood, his scope caught a glimpse of a capuchin chattering in a cluster of mangrove trees just ahead.
Not much further now. Move your ass.
* * *
Officer Maria Sanchez sensed escalating sound waves. She raised her modified AR-15 and peered through the laser scope. No clear sighting yet, but her eyes remained locked and loaded.
For the past decade, she’d been a drone for the Policía de Fronteras, the immigration bureau of Costa Rica. She’d heard a rumor that the “Mule Team,” a notorious band of smugglers with ties to the Columbian cartels, had entered the area scouting new drug routes across the Central Southern wetlands to transport their product to Panama. Recent political upheaval along the Nicaraguan and Columbian borders had disrupted former routes through Costa Rica. The idyllic beaches and rainforests of Manuel Antonio National Park now attracted tourists and drug runners in equal numbers.
Though thirty-five and a head shorter than most of her male colleagues, Sanchez could handle any man twice her size. Her perfectly tailored tactical uniform and flawless makeup belied her strength. But she was all business. Her father had taught her well. A veteran in the Bureau Of Immigration for nineteen years, he had been her mentor, until a modified hollow-point to the back of his head, courtesy of the drug cartel, prematurely terminated his career. His case remained unsolved.
After her father’s death, she had transferred to the Drug Task Force. In less than a year, she’d gone through two partners.
“She burned me out,” her colleagues had officially notified her superior officer.
But off the record, “Psycho Sanchez” was a “revenge crazy bitch hell-bent on nailing the bastards who killed her father.” Nothing was too desperate or dangerous in that pursuit.
Despite passing three psychological evaluations with flying colors, no one would work with her. And she liked it that way.
Her index finger slid toward the trigger and froze as the target came into focus. Aim, breathe, squeeze. Wait! Who the hell was this Caucasian? Where was the mule team?
She ran the man’s face through her mental databank of criminals and drew a blank. The cartel could have sent down new blood from Canada. Or perhaps he was American, a lone wolf hatchet man or a mercenary scouting the coastline for opportunity. Either way, she didn’t like it. And neither did her trigger finger.
* * *
Lyman found his spot. One at a time, he watched a troop of monkeys swing down from the canopy of trees. A total of six: two males, two females, a newborn clinging to the back of its mother, and his favorite – a mischievous prankster he’d named Riff Raff. Lyman was certain he would be the next alpha male. He’d chosen the name Riff Raff after hearing a park guide use the term in a derogatory manner when speaking about the pesky capuchins and their ability to steal from humans yet live in the forest. He had said they were inbred and not worthy to be a species. Lyman felt the same way about humans.
The leader of the clan, Gringo, the old capuchin he’d tracked through the forest, hunched regally on the sturdy treetop, scratching his bulbous belly, keeping a close eye on Lyman and the other primates.
From inside his backpack, Lyman removed his canteen and several ripened apples. As soon as he placed his canteen on the ground, Riff Raff raced up from behind and grabbed it. Lugging it to a nearby stump, he stood bowlegged and proud.
Amused, Lyman figured the young capuchin’s interest would wane soon enough, and then he could retrieve his canteen and indulge in a much needed drink.
Lyman understood that this troop of primates did not fear him. They never had. Survivors all, an understanding existed between them. When war memories festered, he replayed mental loops of this primate family to quiet the echoes. He owed his tenuous sanity to them.
Lyman moved to a flat stump across from Riff Raff, munching his apple and watching the nimble monkey twist the canteen this way and that.
Riff Raff was unique to his breed. His right eye was brown, his left blue. Lyman had spent several afternoons researching this rare condition. But that wasn’t why he was his favorite. He also lacked any protective instinct, racing from one adventure to the next, unaware of his surroundings and the dangers they held. Lyman admired Riff Raff’s bravado, even as he recognized the danger. He felt strangely protective of the fearless youngster.
Lyman cut up the remaining apples and tossed pieces along the ground. Riff Raff tossed the canteen aside and snatched a slice. He carried it up a branch and ate it alone and then hopped down to attempt to steal a second piece from his mother, who didn’t appreciate his poor manners, and boxed his ears. Riff Raff squealed and tore off through the woods.
Vigilant in the treetops, Gringo suddenly grew agitated at something near the ground over where Riff Raff had stopped. The sun was dropping in the sky as Lyman picked up his canteen and walked over to see what had the alpha male so upset.
A glistening pool had formed at the bottom of the tree, fed by a trickling stream down the trunk. As Riff Raff sniffed and Lyman approached, a blob of moisture plopped into the puddle from above. The sound reminded Lyman of the water features so popular in restaurants and spas, where trickling and splashing sounds were designed to evoke inner calmness. All similarities ended as both Lyman and the startled monkey gazed upward to the source of the fountain. Lyman’s smile flattened as a macabre visage overtook him.
The body sagged in the fork of the tree. Wedged between two limbs, the decaying corpse blended with the dense foliage. Insects crawled over the bloated slick skin. The decomposing corpse stared vacantly down. All that remained of the head were hollow sockets in a face devoid of any recognizable features. A red baseball cap slanted gangster-style over the forehead.
Riff Raff scampered up the tree and bounced back and forth on a frail branch above the corpse, emitting a high-pitched excited shriek.
“Get down!” Lyman shouted. Something in his tone stopped the excited dancer, but didn’t bring the monkey back. Riff Raff leaned closer to his newfound treasure, bending the fragile branch under the weight. As he inched further out the limb for a better view, the branch snapped, jarring the corpse, and dumping money from its sodden lap to the ground below.
Riff Raff screamed a frightened call, unaware of another movement along the limb. Lyman reached for his K-Bar, calculating distance and speed.
The poisonous eyelash viper slithered out from behind the body, a foot from the monkey’s hairless ear. Its point-blank tongue zipped out like a polished stiletto while heat sensing pits beneath the viper’s moss green nostrils locked onto Riff Raff’s warm scent.
Lyman cocked his arm back to throw, but before he could release, Gringo dropped from the canopy above and lunged straight into the viper’s venomous jaws. The old monkey plummeted from the tree with the viper in his firm grip.
The two warriors hit the ground tumbling in a death match. Gringo’s sharp teeth tore through the snake’s tough skin but the viper’s sense of survival was as fierce as anything Lyman had ever seen on the battlefield. Fangs slashed even as its head was torn from its spine.
Within seconds, it was over. In his jaws, Gringo victoriously held the bloody snake head. But, the venom released into his system had already begun to take hold. Confused and partially paralyzed, the primate struggled to walk before collapsing, his breathing spasmodic.
The other primates formed a protective circle around their ailing leader while Riff Raff hopped about at Gringo’s feet wanting the old monkey to get up and play. Gringo remained still. The discord struck Riff Raff and he stopped toying, cuddled up next to the old monkey and howled lament.
Lyman put his knife down. If he was going to help, there wasn’t much time. Quickly, he shooed the primates into the trees hearing escalating sounds and movement nearby as the denizens of the forest spread the word. Ignoring his desire to check the sounds, he bent down next to Gringo and lifted his limp head. The primate moaned faintly, but didn’t open his eyes.
Lyman lifted Gringo’s limp arm and examined the wound. Lyman held tightly and used his sharp knife to slice below the row of puncture marks a small cut through the hairy skin. Blood oozed out. Gringo’s eyes shot open for a brief moment and then closed and remained that way. Lyman pressed his lips to the wound and sucked spitting out blood and venom. He repeated it twice and then tore off a chunk of t-shirt and used the makeshift bandage to wrap the monkey’s wound. The other primates stayed their distance, watching intently from the trees.
Carefully, Lyman eased Gringo inside his empty backpack and zipped it, leaving just the head exposed. Then, he picked up his scope and looked off toward the dense canopy where his instincts told him to look.
* * *
The humidity fogged the lens of Sanchez’s scope. She used a corner of her t-shirt to wipe it clear. She could barely make out what was happening down at the forest floor. It didn’t make any sense to her. Who was the corpse in the Mangrove tree? Could it have washed up there in a heavy rain? Possible. Or he could have climbed up there as a lookout for the mule team and been killed? It seemed as big a surprise to the Caucasian as to her. And now what was he cutting up on the ground? She dialed in the focus. What the hell? He was scoping her.
* * *
Lyman spotted her in the tree and suspected she’d been watching him the entire time. By the look on her face, she was as surprised to see him as he was to see her. So she probably wasn’t tracking him personally. As far as he knew, nobody knew he was down in Costa Rica, least of all the cops. So what was she looking for? Guns? Drugs? But there was no time for that now. He had to fly.
After hiking up and down slopes for nearly half-an-hour, Lyman came upon a small stream, waded across it, and then started the final trek down out of the tombola formation of Cathedral Point. Bleeding from cuts on his legs and exhausted from his forced march, Lyman pushed on. Against his back he could feel Gringo’s beating heart, a faint life-force softly drumming through the worn nylon material. Like mythical eagles searching for the sun, a pair of scarlet macaws circled overhead.
Lyman’s throat was parched, but he didn’t stop to replenish fluids. His enemy was not thirst … it was time. From his training he’d remembered some key facts: when a human gets bitten by a poisonous snake, swelling occurs within forty-five minutes; and within three hours, if the bite is serious, the person will usually die. How rapidly the venom moved through a primate was unclear to him. This lack of knowledge unnerved him. If poison moved through an animal’s system according to body weight, it meant he had less than an hour to save Gringo.
He reached the summit and looked out toward Playa Espadrille Sur where the endless blue-green waters of the Pacific beckoned. The end was in sight.
The young assistant for veterinarian Dr. Phillip Ramos walked out of the back room and turned on a light in the narrow hall where, for the past hour, Lyman had been pacing.
“Do you like a Coke?” she asked.
The girl stood four feet tall, tipping the scale around eighty pounds. Beneath the oversized lab coat, which nearly dragged the ground, she wore a blue school uniform. Her dark hair and brown eyes were surely those of a Tico.
“No thanks,” he said.
The girl frowned.
“Very well no coke. Agua then?”
“Nothing,” Lyman said firmly.
And with that the girl sat down on a wooden chair beside the door and stared at him. Lyman ignored her and began pacing again. Worry creased his brow as he focused on the animal’s fate. In the two years he’d been in Costa Rica, he’d never seen a poisonous viper in that area. Of course, he’d never seen a corpse in a tree wearing a baseball cap before either.
“You are like the caged jaguar at the zoo.”
The girl was right. He did have that captive feeling, trapped in this narrow hallway. Lyman looked down. Now with the light on, he noticed the ingrained trail of muddy boot prints running the length of the hall.
He presumed the girl was the veterinarian’s daughter, that she helped out after school. The clinic wasn’t much, just one room off the main house. Earlier, two school-age children burst through the doors and disappeared through an adjoining room where on several occasions their laughter carried through the thin walls. The house sat back from the highway surrounded by trees, and had been the closest veterinarian to Manuel Antonia that he knew of. The sign on the highway indicated it was the Quepos Animal Hospital.
“My name is Sabrina. What’s yours?”
“That’s a funny name.”
“I’ll take that Coke now.” Anything, he thought, for a few moments of peace and quiet.
Sabrina hopped down from the chair and disappeared through a side door leading into the main house. In a few minutes, she returned with a bottle of Coke, which she handed him before returning to her chair.
Lyman sipped the cold soda. “Don’t you have homework to do?”
“Papa said I should stay here until he is finished.”
Lyman walked over and sat down with his back toward her, hoping to finish drinking his soda in silence.
“Is the monkey your pet?”
“It’s against the law to keep them as pets.”
“Yes, but everyone does.”
“Then you are different. But you’re from the United States, aren’t you?”
“Which state? I have memorized all of them” she said proudly. “Would you like to quiz me?”
The girl made no reply.
Lyman immediately regretted his short response. “Okay. What state connects to Mississippi?”
The girl hesitated. “You are from Louisiana?”
She scratched her head. “But I’m correct? Louisiana is next to Mississippi?”
“Yes, it is. And so is Alabama.”
“You’re from Alabama?”
“No. I’m just testing your knowledge of our geography.
“I would very much like to see New York City and Disneyland. Oh, and maybe Hawaii and Hollywood. Do you live in any of these places? I could visit you.” The girl swatted at a fly buzzing her head.
“I grew up in Kansas.”
“That is in the land of tornados, right?”
“Why did you come to Costa Rica?”
“It’s beautiful here.”
She frowned. “You chose this place” she looked around her shabby environment “over Disneyland?”
“Yes.” Lyman smiled at the thought. It was not like he could tell her that he’d stayed for personal reasons, long after his woman had returned to the States. How simple choices seem when you are young.
His smile vanished as the office door opened and Dr. Ramos entered the tiny hallway, drying his hands on a small towel. Sabrina solemnly took Lyman’s hand in hers. “I’m afraid I have some bad news.”
The 727 out of Miami made a descending turn, slicing through the clouds as it began its final approach into San José.
Jack Vu stared out the port side window surprised by all the buildings below. For some reason he’d imagined they’d be landing on a remote runway in the middle of a rainforest. The Costa Rica he’d pictured had beachside huts, coffee plantations, banana trees, howler monkeys, tropical birds and pungent flowers, all in a luscious green paradise. His friend, Detective Hill, thought it would be filled with dark-skinned natives dancing around topless in brightly colored skirts, chanting to bare-chested tattooed tribesmen, roasting pigs on a spit over a blazing fire. Jack didn’t have the heart to tell him Tahiti wasn’t located in Central America.
Instead, what he saw was a crowded city with skyscrapers, smog and filth. The rainforest was there all right, hidden within the green hills and spewing volcanoes, but he couldn’t see it from the window.
“Jack, move your head. I wanna see.”
Vu sat back, allowing his girlfriend Betty to press her face against the glass. She twisted a strand of her long red hair in her hand like an excited teenager as she stared out. Vu stared at her hunched shoulder leaning across him. He loved her pale skin, which erupted into a riot of freckles at the slightest exposure to the sun. By his feet he heard a loud thud and noticed the guide book, previously balanced on Betty’s lap, had fallen to the floor.
He reached over Betty to pick up the book. Once he retrieved it, he sighed. The book had several hundred marked pages with dog-eared corners, torn newsprint, and a stained cocktail napkin wedged between the pages. It looked like a puppy had chewed it, he thought. Attempting to untangle the crumpled maps, Vu smoothed torn and wrinkled pages. In just two hours, Betty had mangled the guidebook.
As Vu removed a sticky cherry stem from the cover, a stewardess strolled by, instructing him to return his seat and put his tray to its upright position.
“Look, there’s Cathedral Metropolitano!” Betty excitedly pointed out. “Wasn’t the original structure toppled by an earthquake in 1821? Let me see the book.”
Vu clutched the savaged tome to his chest. But Betty’s enthusiasm won out.
While Betty thumbed through her marked pages with her glittery nails, Vu reminded himself that this was a vacation. A long overdue one. It had been well over a year since either of them had a break from their hectic careers. Since Katrina and then the oil spill, it had been nonstop for both of them. Betty had spent seven days a week identifying bodies from the disasters, in addition to her usual homicides, suicides and undetermined deaths in a seemingly unending corpse parade. In the past year Jack, a military investigator, had caught moments with her in between probing all modes of crime inherent with a disaster, including death, forgeries, insurance scams and identity theft. You always learn the best and worst of humanity in times of crisis.
It’s time to loosen up and relax. He was going to enjoy this, sticky book covers and all.
He had to admit he took pleasure in the disconnect between the precise serious woman who headed the New Orleans Forensic Department and the laughing scatterbrain who shared his bed at night. He admired her ability to study death in all its ugly faces, and still embrace life so fully.
After surviving the war and making his escape from the internment camp following the fall of Saigon, he had relied on karma to explain the twists the fates had handed him, but dancing with joy still eluded him. Maybe this vacation would bring out the “inner child” psychologists are always talking about. Certainly his work as a military investigator didn’t.
“Jack, I’m so excited,” Betty said. “Did you remember to bring the itinerary?”
“Yes. Did you remember the suntan lotion?”
“You betcha.” Betty leaned close and nibbled his earlobe, leaving a smear of lipstick on his cheek, which she playfully rubbed off. “What’s the name of our yacht again?”
“Sea Gypsy … just like you, Jack.”
Before Betty unfolded her legs, she was distracted by a tiny fray on her skirt hem. Then like a giddy child, she pointed to her big toe, upon which she had painted a glittery “J” and blew him a kiss. Childlike, unconventional, joyful – that was Betty.
“Did we bring Dramamine?” Vu asked.
“We can ask the ship’s steward for some. I did remember the Bushmills.”
Betty leaned over and kissed Vu’s cheek. “Why Jack, is that stubble on your face? What would the Air Force say?”
“I’m taking a shaving vacation for the next two weeks, honey.”
“Then I’ll take a break from personal grooming too!” Betty enthused and clapped her hands.
The plane touched down as Vu tried to determine which of Betty’s grooming routines was being tossed to the wind.
After the airplane turned onto the crowded tarmac and headed toward the terminal, the pilot came on the loud speaker.
“Ladies and Gentleman it appears another aircraft is at our gate. It’ll be just a few minutes while we talk to the tower. Until we receive further instructions, please for your safety, stay seated with your seatbelts fastened.”
Ten minutes later, the engines turned off. As the time ticked by in the rapidly heating plane, Vu cursed all the tea he’d drunk. After 30 more minutes, he made a decision. He unbuckled his seatbelt, and climbed over Betty.
“What are you doing?” Betty asked.
“I’m making a run for it.”
Vu hit the aisle. While the stewardess protested, he sprinted into the lavatory and locked the door. By the time he exited the bathroom, there was a line forming as other passengers followed suit.
Vu sat back down and buckled his seatbelt.
Betty shook her head. “You’re such a bad boy. See what you started?”
Passengers now choked the aisle.
The pilot came on the loudspeaker. “Please stay seated. We can’t move the aircraft until you are all back in your seats. We expect instructions any minute now.”
Vu detected a worried undertone to the pilot’s voice as he focused his attention out the window. Vu counted a total of thirteen airplanes randomly parked on the tarmac, awaiting gate clearance. Other aircraft in various states of repair were lodged in over-crowded hangers or under scaffolding. The only gate that appeared to be operational was blocked by the same plane that was there when they had landed nearly an hour before.
Bored baggage handlers and airport personnel stood about with hands in pockets. Even the security personnel looked like they were taking extended smoke breaks.
Vu read the lips of a frustrated pilot swearing into his microphone. He watched another aggravated 727 pilot throw his hands up in disgust. They were going nowhere. The airport was locked down and the employees were on strike.
Long after the water was gone and the toilets had flooded, the pilot came on.
“Ladies and Gentleman,” the pilot announced, not bothering to hide his irritation, “I’ve never seen anything like this. Now the tower says we’ll be unloading from the tarmac and taking a school bus to the terminal. It is still unclear how your luggage will be transported. Just hang on a bit more. We do appreciate your patience.”
Twenty-five minutes later the engines revved up, the plane crept forward fifty meters and then stopped for good. The pilot killed the engines, then announced, “Folks I guess this is it. We’ll be off-loading here. Again, my apologies for this utter chaos.”
When the aircraft doors opened, humid air rolled in like a tsunami. The stewardess gave the go ahead to the first passengers to de-plane. Betty held Vu’s hand as they stepped out of the aircraft and descended the stairs together.
“I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come,” Betty said, pushing a strand of matted hair from her face. The scorching wind kicked up dust clouds that swirled across the tarmac.
Vu squeezed Betty’s hand reassuringly. “Remember, when we go off plan that is where the adventure begins.”
They boarded the stifling bus, packed forty deep, sweaty bodies pressed together. Betty clutched a handrail still wearing her intractable smile, albeit without its sparkle. Finally, the driver closed the doors. They were moving. Hurray!
After a short jaunt to the terminal, the bus off-loaded at ground level. Everyone was directed inside by officials standing at the terminal doors. Vu followed Betty inside into an ocean of fuming tourists. There were bodies as far as you could see.
Following the herd toward Immigration for an hour and a half, made the 30-minute wait to pass through Customs, seem like a skip in the park. By the time they were free of bureaucracy, and heading toward freedom, the sun was nudging toward the low lying mountains.
Outside the terminal doors, hustlers zeroed in. Hungry and tired, Betty tried to pick a fight with loud American blocking the sidewalk.
“Hey, move your fat ass.” she shouted.
Vu put his arm around her, traded positions, putting a body between her and the testosterone tank. A sign mounted on the wall behind the man’s head read: “In Costa Rica it is illegal to have sex with a minor.”
Obviously the hustlers working the sidewalk couldn’t read English. Okay, he was grumpy too.
Vu spotted a teenager in a tan uniform holding a sign from their travel company. “Over there, Betty!” he pointed.
Vu signaled their eager attendant who guided them through the raucous crowd and introduced them to a friendly female in the same colored uniform holding a clipboard. Betty reached into her purse, fumbled with her camera, and squeezed off a picture.
“Buenas tardes. Welcome,” the attendant said, “I see here on my list you are with Windward Expeditions. Allow me to help you find a seat inside our air conditioned bus, and enjoy a snack.”
It would be another hour before the entire tour group boarded the bus. A different tour guide, also Costa Rican, introduced himself.
“Felicidades! Congratulations,” he announced cheerfully. “You have all made it. My name is Billy Delfaro. I will be your host for the journey to your boat in Herradura. Rather than wait for your luggage to find us, we will leave men here to gather it and bring it to the boat as soon as possible. Now, did everyone receive a sack lunch?”
Betty turned to Vu, now happy as a clam. She’d torn into her lunch, cramming the turkey sandwich into her mouth. Vu took out an apple and rubbed it on his pant leg, smiling. She was a girl with voracious appetites.
Betty slurped mustard from the corners of her mouth. “Dáme un beso! Give me a kiss.” she enthused between bites.
The two-hour drive from San Jose to the pier at Playa Herradura in many ways reminded Vu of traveling through Vietnam. The Capital of San Jose, perched among a crescent of mountains and volcanoes, bore a resemblance to the Saigon of his youth, a city shackled by frantic pedestrians, heavy traffic and blaring horns. The splendid architecture also bore a striking similarity to his homeland, revealing the disparity between rich and poor.
“Look!” Betty pointed out the window at a busy freeway. Vu looked but didn’t share her enthusiasm.
“What is so special about an interstate?” he asked.
Betty eagerly pointed out that they were following the Carretera Interamericana Highway, a stretch of famous interstate which connected Costa Rica to her northern neighbor, Nicaragua and to her southern neighbor, Panama. Betty pawed through her guidebook again, adding a bright smear of mustard to the pages.
While the entire trip excited her, it was all just foreplay to the main event crossing the Panama Canal, a childhood fantasy stemming from a Carey Grant movie she saw as a kid. The main plot involved two spinster aunts killing men and having their crazy brother bury them in the basement, telling him that he was working on the Panama Canal and they were yellow fever victims. Only in America would this plot be considered a screwball comedy.
Vu wondered what part that movie played in the development of this beautiful forensic pathologist with her high IQ and low cut dresses.
“Just think, Jack, in just one week we will transit the Panama Canal.” Her face became serious. “For the next seven days, there’ll be no work, no phone calls, no emails. Just us.”
Vu looked her in the eye. “I give you my word.”
Betty stared at him for a long time before she sat back and relaxed. And before Vu knew it, they were out of the city and traveling on Highway 3.
This narrow, treacherous and twisting road humped out of the Meseta Central plateau at an elevation of 4000 feet and descended to nearly sea level before ascending again like a wild carnival ride. The highway forged across what remained of the Central Plains, but what made the ride thrilling, were the enormous potholes and steep drop-offs on the sides of the road, both of which the driver tried to avoid. Zigzagging through dairy farms, plantations of macadamia, fields of Mangroves and viveros, flower farms, they descended before darkness encompassed them.
Amazingly they arrived at the pier unscathed, slightly dizzy, but eager for the next adventure. It would start sooner than they anticipated.
“Jack,” Betty said, after she climbed down out of the bus and stood on the deserted dock. “Where’s our boat?”
Riff Raff Audio Book – UNABRIDGED 6 CD disc set
Produced and recorded By Maine Streaming Media.
Maine Streaming Media Narrators: Todd Lewis, Jerry Lyden and Giz Coughlin