Even though he was expecting it, Zeb was stil startled when the phone rang. He picked it up quickly. “Hello?”
“Mister Martin, this is Inspector Espinal.”
“Did you find the building? What about the car?” Zeb swung his legs over the side of the bed and leaned forward, as if being closer to the phone cradle would get him the answers he wanted any sooner.
“I don’t know what you saw, Mr. Martin, but there was no sign of any foul play in or around the building you sent me to.”
“No, that’s not possible. I assure you, I know what I saw. Okay? I’m not just some dumb tourist who gets paranoid when in an unfamiliar country. I’m a University professor, I -”
“Look, señor, I don’t appreciate this – how is it you Americans say it? – this wild goose chase you have sent me on. If I weren’t such a kind man, I would arrest you for wasting police time.”
Zeb shook his head and chopped the air with one hand as he spoke. “There were two men carrying a third man’s dead body out of that building into the parking lot, where they stuffed him into the trunk. I saw it. They saw me and they chased me. I got away and I came back to my hotel. Okay?” He gripped the phone tighter. “That is what happened. I need you to believe me-”
“Señor, please listen-”
“No! Listen to me, okay? Escúchame. Please.” Zeb closed his eyes and cradled his forehead in the palm of one hand. “If you don’t believe me, I’m a sitting duck. Those guys will be looking for me.”
Silence. Then, “Señor, I think it best you get on a plane as soon as possible, go back to America and forget about what you think you saw. There was nothing at the youth center, nothing in the parking lot, no car and no body. Even if something did happen there, there is no indication of it now, so there is nothing for me to investigate. Yes?”
“Goodnight, Mister Martin. If you waste any more of my time, I will have you arrested.” With that, the call disconnected.
Zeb let out a frustrated growl and slammed the phone down. Was Espinal telling the truth? Was there really no sign of anything wrong at that building? Should he have trusted the inspector with the knowledge of the photographs after all and just prayed the badge had nothing to do with the police or any other authority?
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to stay calm. What ifs and should haves would do no good. He had done his part and reported the crime. Whether the powers that be did anything with that information was not up to him, and not something he could do anything about. He had almost convinced himself to just let it go and take a shower before bed when the phone rang again.
He furrowed his brow and hesitated a moment. He wasn’t sure he wanted to speak to that Inspector again, if it was him calling back. He reached out and picked up the phone. “Hello?”
“Señor Martin, this is the front desk. There is a gentleman here who has your phone.”
Zeb’s breath caught in his throat. “What did you say?”
“The gentleman, he says he found your mobile phone.”
“Tell him there must be some mistake. Tell him he has the wrong guy.” Zeb quickly hung up the phone, his heart pounding in his chest. It had to be one of them. It had to be. Somehow they had found out who he was and where he was staying.
He bolted up from the bed and pulled the little writing desk out of its corner and shoved it in front of the door to his room. He pulled the curtains tightly closed and then froze. His great-aunt and –uncle. Tía y tío abuelo Alaia and Casimir. He grabbed the phone and paused to remember their phone number, which was stored in his cell phone contacts, and then dialed.
Alaia answered on the second ring. “”I’m so sorry, my boy,”” she said, crying.
“”What happened? Are you and great-uncle Casimir okay?””
“”They said they would do things to us if we didn’t tell them who you are and where you are staying.”” She sobbed. “”I’m so sorry.””
“”Listen to me: you did nothing wrong. I will be just fine.”” He gripped the phone harder as he prayed he wasn’t lying to her.
“”Who are they, Zebedee? Who are these men? What do they want with you?””
“”I don’t know who they are, but you need to stay away from them, okay? They are bad men, dangerous. You should go stay with someone for a few days. I’ll handle this. I’m sorry, great-aunt Alaia.””
“”We will go. You should go to the police.””
Zeb had to choke back bitter laughter. Instead, he told her, “”I called the police. It’s going to be okay. I love you both.’’ He then hung up the phone, thought about calling Espinal back, but decided instead to just sit tight and ride out the night. In the morning, he would get an early flight back to California.
He heard someone in the hallway. Afraid that Uno or Dos may have gotten past the front desk and was seeking him out, he grabbed all of his belongings and the phone and quietly locked himself inside the bathroom. He sat with his back against the tub and braced the door with his feet. He kept his hand on the phone receiver, ready to call for help if his room’s defenses were breached.
And then he started praying.