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(02) Colors of Crime.html

Chapter 2: Colors of Crime



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It's a good day for flying. Calm and clear. Lucius has included the pilot, since we won't be keeping the plane once we reach Santa Amoza. That means I can sit in the back and play passenger.

Ten hours in the air. Not a bad flight, although without Alfred the food suffers. But he is better occupied taking care of Tim. And of Gotham.

This time, I had the foresight to pick the movie. A Midsummers Night's Dream with Anna Friel and Calista Flockhart. Very inspiring. Left to himself Dick has a regrettable taste for bad 'action' videos. Not as bad as Tim's 'horror' flicks, but still quite grim.

Of course, we share the main cabin with Dinah, which takes some of the enjoyment out of the trip. But not overly much. She is a friend.

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"Earth to Bruce." A voice near my ear. "Thirty minutes to landing."

Dinah knows better then to touch me when I'm asleep. And I have been asleep, napping in the recliner in front of the TV set. Last night's exercise with the car thieves must have gotten to me.

I start towards the pilot's cabin, but Dinah shakes her head. Dick must already be up there. I'll leave it to him then.

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"Senor Wayne"

The voice comes from the other side of the Customs booth. I glance over to see a delegation of my managers. Someone in the executive office must have tipped them off to my vacation plans. So much for privacy.

"Senor Wayne. Over here."

Miguel Javier Alvarez, my Vice-President of Development for this region. He is waving now, which appears to annoy the officer who is going all too thoroughly through Dinah's luggage. Not that we are carrying anything dubious. That came in separately. Last night.

"Retroceda atras la barrera!"

One to many late shifts, or something *is* making the officers nervous.

"?Dont que usted sabe quien esto es? Esto Sr. Bruce Wayne, el dueno de Industrias de Wayne!" Alvarez is polite, but insistent.

Perhaps it's the name, perhaps it's the obvious expense of Alvarez's suit, but the answer is calmer. "Soy arrepentido, perp hemos sido ordenadoa al ser alerta."

"El es una persona muy importante. ?Piensa usted queel llevaria el arte hurtado con calcetines? Ademas, el viene en nuestro pais, no partida."

Stolen art?. No reason to let the customs officer know that I understand. I make my gaze wander around the airport. Decent facility. Repainted since my last visit. It good to see that not all the taxes I am paying are ending up in some official's pocket.

I took my eyes off Alvarez a bit too long, so I'm not certain if he passed a bill to the officer, or just waved at him. Either way, I'm sure I'll be told later. Something persuades the man. He closes Dinah's suitcase and waves us past. "Thank you, Mr. Wayne. And please, enjoy your visit to Santa Amoza."

Alvarez is there the moment we pass the gate. He's brought Victor Soto and Ramon Martinez, the managers of my two largest plants. I repeat names and shake hands all around.

They are still blocking the gate when Dick and Dinah come through. "Perhaps we should move?" I suggest politely.

"Of course, Senor Wayne. We would not wish to inconvenience your lovely companion." Martinez flashes his most practiced smile at Dinah. Obviously susceptible to blonds. "Please. Senorita, let me help."

He puffs a bit under the weight of Dinah's suitcase. She must be peeved, because she lets him.

Dick follows, scooping up his case and mine.

There is more on the plane, but the delivery service will take care of that.

"We have a car waiting and..." Soto pauses, counting heads. Apparently gossip had not warned him to bring a limo.

Dick comes to his rescue. Kind as always. "That's OK. You take the first car and we'll follow up when they've cleared all the luggage."

"Thanks Dick. Dinah, I'll..."

"...See you at the hotel." Dinah finishes my sentence for me. She waves as I head off with the men.

Dick knows I'd rather be with him, but to refuse their efforts would hurt them greatly. They've gone to a great deal of trouble to welcome me. And their effort are to my benefit.

Martinez uses the ride in to review the retrofitting of our new plant in Alta Verapaz. He worries that installing air-conditioning on the work floor will over stress the local electrical supply. A problem, but with the local weather in the high nineties, I can not see how we can expect quality work without it. Perhaps we should build our own power plant as well? If power is as scarce as he states, it should not be difficult to find customers for any excess.

Soto needs some guidance with the personnel office. We have always offered literacy classes to our employees, but at Izabal this is causing difficulties. Most of the population speaks Q'eqchi', which has no written form. Should he drop the classes, or offer spoken Spanish so the students will have a language they can read? The later seems logical, but it might offend nativist sensibilities. I suggest that he offer English and French as well. Treating Spanish as a foreign language should diffuse the local emotion.

By the time we reach the hotel Alvarez has invited me to dinner. I accept for the three of us. This will be Dick's first visit to Santa Amoza, and he is always interested in meeting the local people when he travels.

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Alvarez must have told his driver to take the scenic route. Dick and Dinah have reached the hotel before us. They have handled check-in, as the manager is waiting with my keys.

I am glad. I was hoping for a few hours to relax and settle in.

Oracle chose the Castillo de Perlas, and she chose well. Only six stories, situated on the cliff edge with a spectacular view of the Pearl Beach. Frame and stucco. Climbable, if it comes to that. Nothing taller nearby.

We have half the top floor. I would have preferred all of it, but Barbara had to work within time constraints. The other suite is registered to an American tourist named Walker. Arizona rancher who married into serious money. He's traveling alone. If I was Mrs. Walker, I 'd be worried. Not my problem. He's on a jungle tour. With any luck they will stay out until we are gone.

The rooms aren't bad. Too open to be truly secured. Long balconies and glass doors on the ocean side. I remind myself that this *is* a vacation. We will *not* be under attack. A few extra sensors on the glass and railings should be perfectly adequate under the circumstances.

I unpack, then shower, stepping out of the bathroom just in time to see Dick plop on the bed and begin flipping through a pack of tourist brochures. He must have raided the rack in the lobby. I smile as the spins a few my way. Balloon rides, parasailing, jungle rides. All tourist level, but with Dick they might be fun. Dick has a way of making most things fun.

Dick shrugs when I tell him about our dinner invitation, but then he smiles. I know he would rather we spent this evening together. So would I. But he understands the needs of business diplomacy. And there will be plenty of time for us later.

Alvarez offered to send a car, but I prefer my own driver. Dick has dismissed him, but the concergise will know how to call him back.

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Dinner at chez Alvarez.

Lovely house, gracious wife, total waste of time. Except for the glimpse of local domestic life. There is still a certain' class' awareness. Not as severe as in Bwunda or Santa Prisca. But it does indicate that they have a distance to go. I am told the local food is good, but they served us steaks. Still, their cook is excellent.

We relax with coffee after dinner. Thankfully, Miguel Alvarez has exhausted the topic of containerized cargo. Which gives me a chance to change the subject.

"So tell me, Senora Alvarez. What is this I hear about an art theft?"

"Oh, Senor Wayne." She leaps gratefully for the change of subject. Apparently cargo packaging has worn out it's charm for her as well. "That is a terrible thing. A shame to the nation." A moments pause as she settles into her story. "The Tongue of the Jaguar. It was on display at the National Museum. But it did not belong to them. It was only on loan, from the Cultural Museum of Hidalgo. For forty years on loan, and no one thought about it. But then, last month - they asked for it back. A great sorrow, but what could we do?"

From her broad gesture, the answer is clearly meant to be nothing. I give her a smile to encourage the story.

She leans forward, delighted to be the focus of attention. "So the curator, he says 'yes, he will give it back', but the government of Hidalgo, they must send a guard for it."

"Which they do?" Dinah asks. Obvious, but she knows I want to keep the lady talking. Or perhaps she is just desperate for any new topic.

"A whole squad of soldiers. Plus the curators of the National Museum *and* the Cultural Museum . And the Minister of Culture herself." Hands fly into the air to emphasize the obvious grandeur of the assembly. "And they go to the National Museum early in the morning. So there is no traffic, you understand?"

I nod solemnly, not wishing to interrupt the flow of words.

"But when they get there, the Tongue, it is gone." Sra. Alvarez sighs dramatically. "So now there is a scandal."

And a wonderful story for a dinner party, my more cynical mental voice adds.

She continues. "The Minister blames the curator, the curator blames the guards, and everyone in Hidalgo blames all of us for having a thief in our midst."

Dick gives Sra. Alvarez his most charming smile. The one that got him hot coca with marshmallows when he was nine. "This Tongue? Is it a statue? An artifact?"

"A... how would you say.... a dagger. But very old. Mayan. A dagger of flint. With a hilt of solid gold." She holds her hands out to indicate size. More like a machete, if I go by her spread fingers . But perhaps knives, like fish, grow in telling. "I'm sure it will be found muy rapidamente. Still, be careful going inland, Senor Wayne."

I turn to Miguel Alvarez. "I was told this area is stable?"

"But of course" his wife answers. "It is just that... in the hill country..." She gives me the 'garden club' smile I know so well from Gotham. "The people there are not educated, the way we are in the city. Now and then there are ... problems. Sacrifices."

Miguel Alvarez sends her a glare. "Please, esposa. You will have our guests thinking we are barbarians."

She ignores him. "Solamente animal sacrifices." She pats my hand reassuringly. "Never human, of course. The policia would take care of that instante . Perhaps they should be more firm, but... one hesitates to interfere with a so-called 'religion'."

Sr. Alvarez is getting uncomfortable. Probably time to change the subject, Still...as long as she is talking, I'll try one more question."And this theft connects to that... how?"

"Because it is... Oh, but of course. You Americans." She give my the indulgent smile parents generally save for ignorant children. "The Tongue of the Jaguar is the blade of Xibalba. When the Mayans ruled, they used it to kill their Gods."

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It's late before we can make our goodbyes. The car is dark, and I lean back against Dick's shoulder. "Catwoman?" I ask.

I feel Dick shrug. "It doesn't seem worth her while. Besides, she should still be busy with that job for the Louvre. The Mona Lisa recovery."

"She took that job?" I had heard that it was open, but Selina generally doesn't like overseas work.

"According to Barbara, the French are paying handsomely. And it *is* more in her style."

I smile at that. Say what they will about Selina Kyle, she always has had an excellent eye for art. I close my eyes. "Well, steal from a thief, and he probably won't call the police."

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I'm starting to enjoy the evening by the time we reach the hotel. The air is warm, and the sky is beautiful. With the moon near full, the waves are silvered even now.

"Bruce? Care for a drink on the terrace?"

I smile to myself. Dick reads my mind sometimes.

"I'll just head upstairs." Dinah being discrete. Wonderful. Not that we both don't sincerely enjoy her company, but...

We make our way to a nice table overlooking the ocean and and sit back. It's late, so we have most of the area to ourselves. The waiter has just brought tall glasses of the local fruit juice when our pagers go off. Both of them at once.

"Yes?"

"Here"

It's Dinah. "I think you both had better come upstairs. We've had a visitor."

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When we exit the elevator Dinah is standing by the suite door. Healthy enough, but I can see she's been in a fight. Although the smashed furniture in the foyer might supply some clue.

"What happened?", Dick asks.

"Came out of the lift to find a man at the door. Trying to pick the lock. I objected. He tried to run. I tried to stop him."

Thus the furniture. The *former* furniture. I look over the shattered room. At least there's no visible blood.

"Lord." Dinah looks for a place to sit down, but the chairs are kindling. "How am I going to explain this to the hotel?"

"I take it whoever did this got away?" A question, not a statement of the obvious. It gets me an answer.

"He went out that window." She points to the long French windows with their balcony.

Dick goes over and looks out. "Easy drop." And obviously no trace of his flight, or Dick would follow.

I move up to inspect the damaged door frame. "What did he look like?"

"Local."

I gesture her to continue.

"Dark hair, dark eyes. Hill tribe features. Plain clothes. Jeans and a chambray shirt. Could work at the hotel, but no uniform."

In other words, anybody. A flash of color catches my eye. Something snagged on a hinge during the fight. I look closer. A thin shred of turquoise. Another of bright pink. Interesting. Parrot feathers.

END CHAPTER TWO







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