The town’s founder’s day celebration was a big deal for La Providencia. It attracted many tourists, and had put this town, in the middle of nowhere, on the map. People not only from the many ranches outside and other small neighboring towns like La Cascada, or Las Rosas came every year. They also came from many parts of Mexico and from other countries as well. The latter traveled all the way here to enjoy a day or days – some even spending the entire summer here – filled with music, partying, good Mexican food, and a friendly atmosphere.
Sonia’s was crazy. The amount of people eating had doubled since yesterday. Julia hadn’t stopped moving around with food orders and drink orders since she got here at five. Today, there was no time for long friendly chats, just some brief words, excited bits and pieces of what was going on outside, the games and music, before she had to move on to the next table and keep on working.
She got word that Magdalena’s was as busy as the restaurant, but her friend would be closing today at eleven, so she would be ready at midnight to join the rest of them at the party. Julia recognized the French guy who’d flirted with her, as he and his friends left the restaurant with a group of local girls.
The amount of people milling in and out from the stores and restaurants around the square and sprouting outside on the streets was insane. All streets surrounding the main square had been closed off to circulation. Many improvised food stands, bars with white leather lounge chairs, mechanic bulls and souvenirs, among other stuff, covered the length of the streets, with only a small passageway for tourists and locals to wander through.
Julia checked her watch and saw it was eleven on the dot. The kitchen was already closed, so the only remaining customers were those who were finishing off their enchiladas, chilaquiles, or tacos plus the many other delicious stuff Sonia had prepared for tonight. Damian had called her at nine to tell her they would meet right on the opposite side of where Sonia’s place was, close to the street to his mother’s house. She calculated it would take her twenty minutes or more to get past the sea of people outside.
She went to the back room and used the bathroom to change into a cute black shirt dress, its length stopping just above her knees and the black sandals she’d used at the party. Because it had an open neck, Julia took out the box with Damian’s present and clasped the red crystal heart around her neck. She fluffed her hair behind her back, its ends curling into waves. She fussed with her make up, adding a hint of lip gloss, a brush of blush and a retouch of mascara on her long brown lashes.
The small mirror in the bathroom only reached down to her waist so Julia stood up on tiptoes trying to see the entire outfit. When she was ready, she stepped out and left her bag with her old clothes next to Sonia’s desk. She’d pick it up tomorrow. It was packed out there, there wasn’t going to be enough space for her and her bag.
She welcomed the excitement coursing through her. This would be the first time she got ready for this night, without having to sneak out, only to share a few stolen hours with Damian. Tonight, nothing would get in her way. Or so she hoped.
Stephan gave a low whistle when she came out. Sonia said, grinning. “Man, you look hot.”
Julia had no comment ready for that compliment so she just said. “So, it’s okay if I take off now? I could call Damian and tell him….”
Sonia waved a finger in front of her face, as she stood behind the bar with her husband. He was busy at the cash register while she washed used glasses in the sink they had below the counter.
“No, no. You’ve already helped me a lot. You go. We’ll see you at the party. We already have people setting things up there, the DJ, the tables and all that.”
“Thanks! I’ll see you later, okay?
Julia turned on her heels and left the restaurant.
The boisterous crowds, the fools getting drunk on the street, the mayhem, it all was the perfect setting. He’d already decided this would be the day. The chief’s visit at the fair convinced him he needed to finish this off tonight.
He had everything set. While everyone’s attention would be congregated around the square to witness the fireworks at midnight, he would be at one of the abandoned warehouses in the outer limits of town, just a few minutes away from the cemetery, having his revenge.
He had the truck parked on one of the backstreets, so no one would notice when he hauled Julia away. He had another car parked right outside the warehouse with a bag and his passport. No one would suspect him. He’d told his wife he would have to leave town immediately as he’d feigned receiving an important call earlier today.
Word must’ve spread and he imagined some had been disappointed, especially now when the whole gang had gotten together. Not that he’d even been a part of it, nor had any of them taken the time to make him feel part of it. He didn’t hold a grudge to that, half the time he pretended to listen to them when all he could think was of how boring they were.
He spotted his target as she was halfway in the middle of the main square, surrounded by people dancing, her head craning from side to side trying to find the best route. Well, he would help her find it, though sadly this particular route would lead to her death.
“Excuse me, sorry, sorry.”
Julia’s voice got lost amid all the loud conversations and music coming not only from the kiosk in the middle of the square, but from some of the temporary stands all around, and from the constant clinking from the games at the fair.
Man, had it always been like this? Though Julia did remember the band playing inside the kiosk, she didn’t remember it being all so crowded. She glanced down at her wristwatch and saw she had twenty-five minutes before midnight.
The space around the kiosk had been turned into a last minute dance floor. Speakers hung from around the trees, while strings with colorful thin, translucent paper, with the name of the town and the year of its founding hung from the ficus trees creating a web of orange, purple, blue, green, yellow and light pink over her head.
The tex-mex music from the band on the kiosk had everyone around her dancing, their bodies pressed to each other, their body heat trapping a myriad of odors Julia wanted so desperately to escape. Someone stepped on her foot as she continued to make her way, a couple simply pushed her aside, too engrossed in their dancing to pay attention when she muttered, “do you mind?”
Once she cleared the dancers, she still had to use her shoulders to make her way through the people standing next to the several food stands, eating or making a line. Though some sold typical street food like hot-dogs, French fries, grilled burgers and cotton candy, others sold more traditional food like tacos, quesadillas, even sandwiches immersed in hot sauce with pork meat, which here were called tortas ahogadas. Julia had tried one once at Sonia’s insistence and had felt her stomach disintegrate from the inside. She had had to live on tums for at least a week before she felt her insides not on fire.
Her stomach growled. She had eaten only two quesadillas at Sonia’s. The smell of fried tortillas, salted fries and the sizzle of oil as it burned on the pans next to her was tempting. But if she attempted to get anything she’d be late. Plus, she could always get something with Damian after the fireworks.
On each one of the streets that lined each side of the square, tents with people selling pirated movies, pirated cd’s and some others with pieces of clothing hanging from the sides, shoes, cowboy hats, boots, and toys had been set. Apparently, the FBI’s warning at the beginning of movies didn’t reach this part of the world.
There was also a mechanical bull at the end of the street. A woman was attempting to hold on to it as it tried to throw her to the floor, her shrieks barely audible due to the music coming from the live band behind Julia as the song changed, eliciting hoots of approval from the crowd.
Some locals had set up temporary bars along the street next to where she was walking, exactly along the same sidewalk where the notary’s office was located. From what she could see as she glanced sideways at them, they had a very limited selection of alcohol; tequila and rum being the most abundant.
A group of teenagers who looked no older than nineteen, the legal drinking age here in Mexico was eighteen – which was why many American kids flew to places like Cancun or Los Cabos and got completely wasted- walked past her, all holding clay mugs or jarritos, with tequila and lemon soda. Julia had seen Stephan prepare them at the restaurant, though these must’ve come from the bars she was passing by. She spotted others with beer bottles, others drinking micheladas, their white styrofoam cups with their rims covered in chili powder and salt. Their beers had probably lemon juice, a hint of tabasco and Worcestershire sauce.
In that instant, a group of kids ran in front of her making her stop before she collided against them. It was when she felt it again. That same prickling sensation on the back of her head, like that day on the side of the road and before she walked inside Sonia’s hours earlier. As she rotated her body, all she saw was a sea of heads moving in all directions, hands moving in tune with the music, and cowboy hats as they floated about the square.
Julia couldn’t suppress the chill that ran up and down her arms. Relax Julia, just take it easy, she instructed her mind. The guy responsible for the scorpions was already locked away and she would head down to the police station tomorrow to press charges. Though like she’d told Damian, she doubted it meant this was over.
Adrenalin began to bubble inside her. Before she could take another step, she felt a hand grab her by the arm. Julia was thankful for the noise around her, her scream was barely audible. Her heart was in her throat when she turned around and saw a familiar face smiling down at her. Though she wanted to relax, she couldn’t stop her voice from sounding startled and panicked.
“God. You scared me.”
“I’m sorry. I saw you standing there and wondered if you’d gotten lost or something.”
“No, no. I needed to gather my bearings, I feel like I’ve been trying for hours to get to the other side.” As she glanced back to Sonia’s, she noticed with dismay she’d barely made any progress at all.
“You’re going somewhere?”
“Yes. I promised Lucas and Damian we would watch the fireworks together.”
He seemed to consider her answer, and then he said. “I could give you a ride. Trust me, it’ll be faster than you pushing people away.”
Julia chewed her lip debating her options. She glanced at her watch and saw it was already eleven forty-five. It would take her another twenty minutes or more to cross the square, and she might end up losing the beginning of the firework castle. But if she drove there, then she wouldn’t be too pressed for time. She gave him a warm smile and said. “Okay, sure.”
“Excellent.” His light blue eyes twinkled and she let him guide her back where she’d been coming from, only this time they stepped down to the street, past some clothes stands and walked towards the deserted streets, away from the crowd.
From over his shoulder he said. “My truck is parked over here. Actually, I’m glad I ran into you, there’s something I want to show you.”
“Oh……okay.” Julia considered since he was being kind enough to give her a ride, the least she could do was take a look at whatever he wanted to show her.
They rounded the corner, her ears still clogged from all the noise, a faint beep as she adjusted to the silence around them, the faint echoes from the party thumping behind them.
They were already a good distance away when the yellow lights of a Ford truck blinked twice. Julia’s pace faltered as she noticed the dark color, and the same model from the one that had tried to run her over last week. Similar to the truck she’d seen the day she’d gone to Whisper Mountain. He noticed her hesitation and asked, his eyes puzzled.
“Is something wrong?”
Julia didn’t know why but the way he phrased that question…….it was almost as if he knew what was wrong, it freaked the hell out of her.
Stop it. She ordered her paranoid mind. She couldn’t go on suspecting her friends, besides the guy who put the scorpions inside her bed had been a total stranger. Chief Ramos believed the letter and the scorpions weren’t related. Why shouldn’t she think the same?
“No, no. Let’s go.”
He motioned her to the left side door behind the driver’s seat.
“What I want you to see is in there.” He waved his phone in front of her. “Sorry, I have to take this.”
Julia opened the door and leaned inside. There were a lot of papers scattered on the backseat and on the floor, and she wasn’t sure exactly what she was supposed to be looking for. Then, the light from the street lamp above shone on a glossy surface and she grabbed it.
“What the hell?” She muttered.
She recognized her face from the shot taken the day of the party, only this one was a close up of her profile, her eyes lost in thought and focused on the town below her. Her face was inserted into what was supposed to be a book cover. Her name, Julia Andersson, appeared on the bottom and just above it the legend: From the deceased writer, the story of her death.
She’d walked right into the dragon’s lair. Her eyes landed nervously on the cap and dark glasses on the floor. Her breath caught in her throat and her heart started hammering hard, its anxious beats screaming at her to get the hell out. When she whirled, all she saw before passing out, were his cold and crazy eyes before his hand shot out with a piece of white cloth as it pressed against her nose and mouth.
Her last conscious thought was, why?
When her body went limp, he pushed her inside, making sure she lay on the floor, hidden from view. The tinted windows of the car would provide cover as well. Not that he needed one, everyone was busy partying and celebrating.
How ironic. In a while, people would be engrossed in the fireworks on the sky and he would be engrossed in watching the daughter of the man who’d caused his father’s dead, do the same.
Before though, he had one more thing he needed to do. As he drove the truck away, he headed to what used to be Damian’s old house and parked under the shadows. From the back he grabbed his dark glasses and cap and put them on.
He spotted the little boy, kicking a soccer ball, as he stood on his own away from a young woman he assumed was his mother, and two elderly women. Just then, Lucas kicked the ball his way and he made his move.