6

The Cacique Primiero's been assassinated? Frank thought, With a bomb in Pilar's belt?

Siesta time was ended. He'd been unable to nap. He'd left the Hotel Victoria and taken a taxi into downtown Oaxaca. At 4:30 in the afternoon he was again seated alone at a table under the open arcade, across the street from the Zocalo. Today he sipped a margarita.

The tables were about half filled with mostly local people, speaking quietly but with great intensity. They kept repeating the words, "Asesinato" and "Las Huelguistas" (The Strikers) over and over again.

A few tourists were here, but none of them were close enough for Frank to speak with. Right now he didn't feel like speaking with anybody.

I should not have got involved with Pilar in the first place, he thought. The sacrificial Maiden, who I made foqui with last night, died wearing the belt that contained the bomb that was used to assassinate the most powerful Religious Leader in Mexico.

I can't believe that she had any prior knowledge of the assassination. I'm sure that when the sacrificial maidens put on their sacred outfits, she just happened to be the one who picked up the skirt with the booby-trapped belt.

"Wardrobe malfunction"? No! Don't make any jokes about it!

I should not have attended the Sacrifices!

She'd been very disappointed when I said that I wasn't planning to attend. She wanted me to place a bet that she'd be the one to die. She also wanted me to have her cabezita for a souvenir. Now who knows if there's anything left of her head?

I should not have had anything to do with her, and I should not have attended the sacrifices! This was all nothing but devil worship!

Devil worship? I'm glad I didn't say those words out loud.

What I did say out loud was, "I wanted to stop any evil that was going on; not to add to it."

I shouldn't have used the words "Not add to it." I should have kept my mouth shut, and not said anything at all.

So what do I do now? Simple. Go on with my vacation, and avoid any further involvement with anything Aztec.

Frank took another sip of his margarita, and saw Cynthia Murray moving around the tables to his right, looking for a place to sit. The blonde Daughter of Jephthah was now casually dressed, wearing tight yellow slacks, and a light blue blouse, while carrying a green handbag.

She recognized Frank, and began moving in his direction.

Not her please! He thought, No more involvement with any Aztecs, or anyone who's involved with them! Please, no trouble!

She came up to the table and spoke with a serious tone. "Buenas tardes."

"Hola." He said just as seriously. "I know this is an old joke, but I really mean it. You really do look good with your clothes on."

She smiled. "Thank you for saying so. So do you." She asked him, "Have you heard the news?"

"Have they caught the assassins?"

"I haven't heard anything about that. What I've heard is that a major earthquake's hit Los Angeles; about 7 points on the Richter Scale."

"Los Angeles? 7 points?"

She nodded. "It struck just about five minutes after El Cacique Primiero was assassinated."

He sat there quietly thinking Earthquake? Five minutes after?

After a long moment, he spoke. "I see." He asked, "So you think there's a connection?"

"El Cacique Primiero was assassinated, as part of a sacrilegious act of supreme desecration! Of course there's a connection! El Cacique Primiero was assassinated while performing a sacrifice! Now nothing is right with the World!"

"Right. I'm sure a lot of people are thinking that way right now. What do you say to the people, who'd tell you that the assassination happening, just before the earthquake, was just a coincidence?"

"What those people say doesn't matter Mr. Sandrell! What matters is that everybody I've been talking to here in Oaxaca, believes that it wasn't any coincidence; and so does this Daughter of Jephthah, along with most of the people in the world!"

He nodded. "I was afraid of that. It looks like there's gonna be plenty of trouble for a lot of people, including people who didn't have any kind of involvement."

"Like you?"

"It's possible."

She seated herself across the table from him.

"You don't have to worry." She told him, "It's obvious that you couldn't have had any kind of access to the belt that exploded; and the old lady misunderstood what you were saying, 'cause you were speaking in English."

Frank told her, "If she could understand English, I might really be in trouble. What I was saying was a prayer, that the Lord would put a stop to the devil worship that was going on."

Cynthia gasped slightly. She looked around and put a finger to her lips.

She told him "If you want to stay out of trouble don't say that again out loud. Not even in English."

He nodded, "No problem."

She asked him, "Devil worship?"

"That is what it is."

Now Cynthia looked up, facing the far end of the arcade.

"Here come your amigas." She said.

Frank looked where she was facing. He saw Juanita and Yolanda approach, making their way around the tables. They were now also casually dressed in blouses and shorts, and carrying handbags. The two were heading in Frank and Cynthia's direction. This afternoon, neither girl was smiling.

He said, "They also look good with their clothes on."

Cynthia asked, "Do you use that line often?"

"Only with sacrificial maidens. Who else?"

Now the girls came up and stood beside them, still unsmiling. This afternoon, each girl had a long obsidian dagger tucked under her belt.

Juanita said, "Buenas tardes Frank y Senorita."

Frank said, "Buenas tardes senoritas."

Cynthia nodded. "Hola." Then she told them, "Senor Sandrell here says that he thinks we all look good with our clothes on."

Both girls giggled.

Yolanda spoke with a grin. "We were told that he makes good foqi; so if you want to be a bad girl, he's good. At least that's what we were told. We are good girls, so we would not know."

Frank and Cynthia looked at one another uneasily for a moment. Then they looked away, while both girls chuckled.

Frank asked them, "You're both armed?"

The girls stopped smiling.

Cynthia told him, "You have nothing to worry about. We sacred maidens only kill each other, and only when our boobs are naked, and only during consecrated sacrificial fighting; like the major brawl I heard about, that happened here on New Year's Day."

"And it will not be happening again," Juanita told them "for as long as we are desecrated."

Frank asked, "Desecrated?"

"That's right." Cynthia explained, "The Teochacali wasn't the only thing desecrated when the bomb went off. Everyone who was standing or sitting on it was also desecrated. That includes Cacique Ramierez, these girls, the five other sacrificial maidens and myself. None of us will be allowed to take part in any sacrifice, until we've purged ourselves."

Frank chuckled. "Well here in Mexico purging oneself has never been much of a problem, at least not for tourists like you and me, Miss Murray."

"This isn't a joke!" she snapped.

Now Yolanda explained. "What we must do, to purge ourselves of this desecration, is for each of us who was desecrated, to eat the desecrator."

Frank repeated, "'Eat the desecrator'?"

Juanita gripped the handle of her dagger, and drew it out from under her belt.

Cynthia said, "That's right. Eat."

"We are looking," Juanita said, "for someone who might have been involved in the assassination of El Cacique Primiero, and the desecration of our Teochacali."

Yolanda also stood holding her own dagger. She told Frank, "It might have been someone who called upon the name of the evil one."

"I didn't do that." He explained, "I was speaking in English, and might have been misunderstood."

"That's right." Cynthia told them. "I know for a fact that Senor Sandrell here is a practicing Aztec."

Frank was startled. "Why are you telling them that? Don't complicate things."

"I remember you Mr. Sandrell." She said, "During my first year in college, I came here to Mexico on my Mid-Winter Break. I spent a few days at Puerto Vallarta. While I was there, Aztec Sacrifices were taking place near my hotel. That was the Hotel Los Arcos on La Playa Los Muertos. Do you know what "La Play Los Muertos" means, Mr. Sandrell?"

Frank nodded, "'The Beach of the Dead'."

"Very appropriate isn't it? Well I decided to see if I could earn the generous compensation, by taking the chance by being one of the maidens who don't get sacrificed. I figured that the compensation would cover the cost of the entire trip, with a good amount left over.

"That was my very first time as a Sacrificial Maiden. When the dagger stopped spinning, the maiden it was pointing at, just happened to be the Rock Singer Mariah Ladonna. She was standing right next to me, and her heart was the one that got ripped out."

Frank said, "I remember that. It was on all the News Reports."

"That's not the only reason why you remember, is it Mr. Sandrell?"

He looked away from her.

She spoke to the girls. "The Cacique who ripped out the Rock Singer's heart was Senor Sandrell here."

The girls looked at him curiously.

Frank now looked away from them and Cynthia.

Cynthia went on. "If the dagger had stopped spinning just one instant earlier, the heart he ripped out would have been mine. Then Mariah Ladonna would have been the one who received the compensation, as if she needed it."

Frank continued not looking at any of them.

Cynthia said, "I know it was you, Senor Sandrell. We Sacrificial Maidens never forget our first Cacique."

"That was then." He looked at her. Then he admitted to them all, "I have repented, and handed my life over to the Lord Jesus Christ. What I did at Puerto Vallarta is all behind me."

Yolanda smirked, "It wasn't last night."

"'The spirit is willing'" he looked at Cynthia "'but the flesh is weak'. Mine was especially weak last night; a weakness for which I've been having an increasing sense of remorse, all day."

He looked at the girls. "I've never been to Oaxaca before. I arrived yesterday, and I didn't get over to the Teochacali until you saw me today, just before the ceremony began. I have no idea where you keep the sacred garments, and even if I did, I wouldn't have had the time or opportunity to plant the bomb, would I?"

Juanita and Yolanda put the daggers back under their belts.

A waiter came over to the table, and the girls seated themselves. Cynthia ordered a cerveza; so did both girls.

Once the waiter stepped away Juanita spoke. "Frank. There is an easy way for you to prove to everyone, that you are not hostile to us Aztecs. Since you are a cacique, you should be the one who sacrifices the desecrator, before we eat him, or her."

Frank said, "I should be the one?"

"She's right." Cynthia told him, "It would improve your image."

They were all quiet for a time. They listened to the worried people at nearby tables, who kept repeating the words "Las Huelguistas".

Juanita spoke. "Everyone's blaming the bombing on Las Huelguistas. They are the people who want all of us Sacrificial Maidens to go out on Strike."

She looked at Cynthia. "You Daughter's of Jephthah are behind this whole going on Strike business. While Frank didn't have access to the maidens' belts, you did. The only maiden who took part in the sacrifice, who isn't from Oaxaca, was you. Maybe Frank will get to rip your heart out finally."

"I didn't plant the bomb!" Cynthia spoke nervously. "We Daughters of Jephthah are not responsible for the bombing! It's true that we do support the Sacrificial Maidens, who want an increase in the compensation; but only in ways that are lawful, and civilized.

"Do you remember last night, when El Cacique Primiero came through here? He saw that I was wearing a Daughter of Jephthah tee shirt, and came over to talk. He asked if we were planning to disrupt the sacrifice, and I assured him that we weren't. I told him that I'd like to discuss our concerns with him and he agreed.

"I met with him this morning, in one of the offices behind the Teochacali. That was a few hours before the sacrifice began. We discussed everything, and it looked like we were close to an agreement. I sent an e-mail to Daughters of Jephthah headquarters, and let them know all the details. In that way, if I was the one sacrificed, the negotiations could continue.

Things were going so well; but this assassination might have ruined everything for everyone involved!"