BIG BLACK DOG IN VALLARTA
A Sydney Reardon Mystery
"I could spend hours on your upper portal looking out at the bay."
"I do," Maude said as she sat beside Sydney among soft off-white cushions on the wicker couch. "In the morning I watch the fishing boats go out. The snorkeling ones headed for Los Arcos. The catamarans plopping along. The tourist ferries going to Yelapa. In the early evening the booze cruise goes out with music blaring.
"I look at all the boatloads of tourists and wonder about them. There are flocks who come to get toasted. They're seriously into sun and sand and skin cancer. And there are those who think it's romantic to have sex on the beach by moonlight. And you can count on those who hope to break the record for the number of margaritas they can consume."
Sydney laughed softly and placed her arm lightly across her friend's shoulders. "Maude you sound jaded about tourists. You complain just as it's popular to do in Santa Fe. We're so dependent upon tourism and yet most everyone tries to avoid downtown in summer and you hear unimaginative tourist jokes at every cocktail party. It's the same in Rome and the Hamptons and on Mykonos I dare say. I love being a tourist here."
"It is a great town for just relaxing. It's not like Paris where you have to do the Louvre. Or London where there's all that theater. Or, for that matter, Mexico City, with the special anthropology museum and the pyramids."
"John and I had a great time."
"I'm sorry your stay was so short. Did you lie in the sun or have sex on the beach or drink margaritas?"
Sydney nodded and grinned. "Probably all of the above and lots of other touristy things. Shopping. And, even a house tour. John took a parasail ride. You can be sure with my fear of heights I stayed on the ground. When were we here?" She sighed. "Two years ago."
"Oh my god Darlin'. Don't tell me you're going to ruin my party by talking about that marvelous man."
"I promise I won't. I will think about him though." She sighed again and, changing the subject, pointed to the bay. "I notice that the cruise ships get taller and fatter and whiter every time I'm here."
"And more of them. When I first started coming here there was one every week or ten days. Now, some mornings I look out and there are two or three in the bay."
"The other Sunday in the travel section I read that Banderas Bay is the largest natural bay in Mexico. I know it is huge but I never thought about it being the largest. A hundred miles of shore line."
"You always have been great at remembering unimportant information like that," Maude teased.
"I know. I sometimes have trouble with pertinent statistics but I'm remarkable at trivia."
"Speaking of statistics, I've decided I'm a classic. I have 2.5 children. Rob is such an overachiever he's probably a hundred sixty-five percent, and Lucy doesn't give a damn and is about eighty-five percent. Add them together and I have the 2.5 children you always read about."
"Maude you're terrible. How is Lucy? Where is she now?"
"She's fine so far as she's concerned. It's iffy from my viewpoint. She's tending bar in a chic little place in Palm Beach and living on a houseboat with a computer type. She's so beautiful. Why couldn't she have been a model or something instead of a peripatetic bartender? She's such fun. But she is exhausting. I can't be around her too long at a time. She works hard and they love her everywhere but you know three or four months is a career for her."
"She was wonderful trying to help me recover when I was here that Christmas after Townie died. You wanted to keep me busy and you would send Lucy out with me every day. We would walk along the malecón and eat ice cream cones in the morning and talk about life. When we'd walked enough we'd sit on one of those uncomfortable iron benches by the water and watch the local children playing and tourists in wrinkled khaki shorts and fanny packs all wearing clean new tee-shirts they'd just bought. Lucy had lots of fun flirting with the tourist police decked out in their white shirts and shorts and socks and their polished black shoes. They adored having her ask questions.
"We would have lunch in some fun place and in the afternoon drink beer waiting for siesta to be over so we could go shopping. She was in love with a dashing older man. As I remember he was almost thirty. He was going to teach her to be a bookie."
"Oh my god! I'd forgotten all about Steve. He lasted almost six months. The next one had another get-rich-quick scheme. It's ironic, she always talks about lots of money and I probably haven't been as generous as I should have. Certainly not as generous as I could have been. I thought she'd just blow it. Now she's going to have twelve million dollars. I was planning to set up a trust fund but Hale persuaded me that wasn't fair. When I told him she'll run right through it he said, 'Let her. That won't be your responsibility.' Unusual advice for a lawyer but Hale is an unusual guy. You'll see. On the other hand Rob will invest his wisely and never spend any capital."
"Is Rob's divorce final?"
"Just a few weeks ago. He and Kevin are living with what Rob calls his significant other, wherever the hell that term comes from. She's beautiful but serious and driven like Rob so they'll probably live happily ever after. She has two little girls and they seem to like Rob and get along with Kevin and vice versa."
"Kevin was almost the most beautiful baby I've ever seen. His mother was stunning."
"Oh yes. Kera was gorgeous. Still is. She's kind of a flake but I love her. Why Rob thought they could make a go of it is beyond me. To Kera life is a lark. I adore my son but he is totally humorless and excessively ambitious. And overly structured."
"I remember Kera as a sheer delight."
"I'm leaving her some money with instructions to spend it frivolously," Maude chuckled. "As if she needed to be told that."
"That's very generous."
"I know. As they say, you can't take it with you. I worry a little about Kevin. Sometimes I wish he were more like his mother. He's structured and competitive just like his father. Can you believe at eight he's the golf champion in his age group at the country club."
Sydney smiled as she knew was expected.
"Rob doesn't like Vallarta because there are no memorable ruins or famous museums or ornate churches. Even on vacation he needs to be doing something worthwhile.
"He calls this place Ma's Madhouse. But he does concede that you made a faithful copy of a colonial beauty. I've heard him telling friends that everything you did was totally in character I see him standing down on the beach looking back at the graceful double arches and the wonderful stonework around the entrance. He's fascinated by the constantly changing patterns made by light and shadows."
"I'm flattered that he approves."
"Of course he thinks it is too grand for the neighborhood and says it can never be sold for what it's worth. I tell him he doesn't need to worry about selling it-I'll give it away. He cringes at that. He just doesn't know how soon."
Maude paused for breath and a silence fell between them. Then she was reaching to the table behind the lounge where they were sitting.
"Look! Your mask."
"She's not pretty," Sydney observed as she took the face Maude was holding. "But she looks strong. And interesting. Who is she?"
"You're absolutely right. She is strong. She's popular. All the Mexicans at the party will recognize her. She's the Corregidora."
"She was a hero person of John's. He was intrigued by her sitting in an upstairs parlor in her beautiful house in Queretaro, allegedly reading poetry but actually plotting an uprising with all those revolutionary types."
"Right. Doña Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez. She's more attractive in that big statue in the park than in this mask. I didn't know you and John had been to Queretaro."
"I haven't. John went a number of years ago to look at some obscure ruins in the Sierra Gorda and, of course, stopped in Queretaro. He fell in love with the beautiful colonial buildings. He wasn't usually interested in anything more recent than the Conquest but the Corregidora's house and the little plaza it looks out upon caught his fancy. He thought it the most perfect square he'd seen in Mexico. He planned to take me there."
Maude chortled. "I started to invite you to go with me. I'm afraid John and I both let you down. Take yourself there."
"Maude this is unnerving. One moment we're having a light conversation and the next moment we are back facing death. It's macabre."
"I know. It's been happening to me ever since I made the decision. I'd be planning the party and then it would hit me. Here." Maude laid a hand over her heart. "Or in the pit of my stomach. That's one reason I asked you to rush down-to distract me. You have to promise we won't mention this again until after the party. As Ma used to say, 'Just let it lay where Jesus flang it.'"
Sydney smiled sadly. "All right. That is the most provocative quote. It always puzzles me, and amuses me. I remember the first time I heard you use it. Pearson had just been killed in Vietnam and I was agonizing over what does it all mean and you advised, 'Let it lay where Jesus flang it, as Ma used to say.' I didn't know whether to laugh or cry."
"I promise you Darlin' that the party will take your mind off everything else. It's going to be a real fiesta.
"You'll see lots of Pancho Villas and Zapatas. Several presidents of Mexico. Plenty of personalities from the States because many of the guests are from north of the border. Jack Kennedy. And Jackie. Bill, or maybe Hillary. Chelsea would be imaginative. Elvis for sure. Madonna's a good bet. You can count on a few birds. Jungle cats. Several bulls, that ubiquitous symbol of strength in this country."
"That's a surprise. It will amuse you I promise. I may have made one mistake when I planned the perfect party. Weeks ago when I reserved the restaurant for December 12 it didn't occur to me that it was the final night of the Virgin of Guadalupe celebration. I had already sent invitations when it dawned on me. There will be mobs in the street and traffic will be impossible but maybe all the excitement will add to the festive air. Have you ever been here for Guadalupe days?"
"No, but I was in Oaxaca once and I remember the processions were wonderful. They went on for days. The last night there were Indians in from the villages wearing splendid, colorful regalia and dancing in the streets and in the churches"
"There will be fireworks around town but not so elaborate as ours at the end of the evening. It will be nice that thousands can enjoy the display, not just those of us partying at the cafe."
"Maude how can you enjoy a party with what you're planning?"
"You've broken your promise." She winked. "How can you not enjoy a party when you know it's your last one?"