Travel Thursday Encore: It’s Not Stalkerish, It’s Training part 2

Almost an hour later Tigre exited the sports club. Seeing me still on my perch, and being suspicious by nature, he stopped to see what I was doing. Getting a sufficiently realistic growl in my voice, and trying not to giggle at having to play actor, I muttered, “My little bitch seems to have stood me up. If she ever gets here, she’s gonna pay.”
Tigre grinned, of course. “If you need some help. . . or if you’re not man enough to handle her, I’d be glad to take her off your hands.” The grin was predatory, matching his nickname.
I let the smile that’d been fighting to come out emerge, since it fit the moment. “I’m sure that gal who hugged you would love to hear all about it and have a good cry in the arms of a real man.”
Damn, I impressed myself with that one.
But Tigre’s grin only grew wider, as expected. After all, it wasn’t uncommon for men in Latin countries to spar in such a fashion, even amongst strangers. “You don’t see me having troubles. She would never leave me.”
A part of me very much wanted to remind him that she wasn’t his to leave, but of course I wasn’t quite stupid enough to tip my hand for the sake of oneupsmanship. So I got up and slung my bag onto my back while sweetly mentioning, “You’re welcome to her, if you think you can do a better job. In the meantime, I’m on my way to a sure thing.”
As I jumped into the first taxi, I saw the familiar face across the street, hoping he wouldn’t be so obvious when he tailed Tigre. Still, I got a bad feeling about it.
Incredibly tired–otherwise I would have walked the relatively short distance–I lurched out the taxi and through the door that had been opened by the man in the funny suit outside the Maria Isabel Sheraton. Assuring the man I was not drunk while passing on a tip, I wearily climbed the ramp and went into the hotel, where I made my way to the front desk and asked if I had any messages. The desk clerk knew me and had obviously never seen me like this. “Would you like me to call a masseuse for you?”
Just the thought of that almost put me to sleep on my feet. . .
The next day came with all the grace and speed of a man dragging himself across the desert. Ten AM found me sitting on a stone bench with a local agent-in-training named Lily on Paseo de la Reforma, somewhere between the statue of Diana and the Anthro museum. There was a huge crowd of people walking around the streets, most of them going to Chapultepec Park across the street, but more importantly there was a large number of couples sitting and walking in our vicinity, so we did not look out of place at all.
“Check in. No contact yet. Next check in half an hour.”
“Copy that, Tony. Over and out.”
Lily found herself giggling, making me give her a look of reproach. “It’s funny,” she insisted. “You guys are talking like they do in every spy movie I’ve seen.”
I didn’t answer, not wanting any such conversation to be overheard. Instead I kissed her, not very passionately according to most standards but much more steamy than any of the other couples around us. As a matter of fact, we were attracting stares, so I had to tone it down a bit; no need to get her horny, I grinned to myself.
Lily knew she was only there for camouflage, but that did not mean she couldn’t enjoy herself in the meantime. Like any woman, she fancied herself a good actress, and she didn’t mind playing the lover role at all. She also knew I would not be in town much longer, and she was sure when the target was spotted I would leave in a hurry; she giggled at the thought that some man would try to comfort her on seeing her lover abandon her in such a matter, thinking that wasn’t a bad way at all to snare a guy.
She giggled again. Here she was, kissing one man and thinking of the next. . .
I knew this would probably be the last shot at nailing the suspect, so I was torn between letting Lily come with me when the blonde mounted the bus, to provide further camouflage, or leave her here so she could be out of danger. Having no idea where the bus would take us, there might not be a chance to let her get out of harm’s way. She’d make excellent hostage bait as well.
My thoughts were silenced when my earwig activated. I was pretty sure it wasn’t a half-hour yet, so this was probably it.
“Target spotted, wearing a bright yellow windbreaker and tight jeans. Very very tight jeans. . .”
“Keep it businesslike, Tony.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You’ve got the best duty in town, sitting there and kissing that luscious–”
“That luscious can hear your every word, and knows English better than you do. I’m also taping this for your sister.”
I could almost hear the blush on the other side of the transmission, could definitely hear Lily’s ever-present giggle in my other ear. But whatever worked. . .
“Target proceeding south on Mariano Escobedo, almost to Paseo. You should be able to see her at any moment.”
“Copy. Keep up a running commentary, and keep it low.”
Lily was already ahead of me, taking my camera and long-range telephoto out. I set up quickly as she moved about ten yards down the street to pose. Keeping up a running dialogue, I told her how to pose as I clicked away, though my lens was actually focused down the street. A passerby might have found it suspicious for me to be using such a huge lens to shoot a gal so close, but obviously would come to the conclusion that I wanted an extreme close-up of her extraordinarily beautiful face. Besides, not that many people around here would be photography experts, even the tourists.
“I have her in my sights,” I told Tony, chuckling as I realized I would have said exactly the same thing if I were holding a rifle instead of the very similar-looking lens barrel. “She’s hopping into a bus. Get to your car and be ready for my next signal. Follow discreetly.”
While I said this I was already packing things as Lily hailed the minibus. There was no question of her going now, so we climbed in and found two seats together. I made sure not to look at the target as we passed her, but I was free to stare at her back all I wanted, telling Lily to be ready to get out quickly before returning to our previous roles of kissy-kissy.
It was obvious that Lily was attracting a lot of attention, so I made the decision to have her get off as if it were her stop, then join Tony in the car. Neither of them would be involved in the action; Tony was no expert in this stuff either. It would be a one-on-one.
Hopefully. . .
Much to my surprise, I soon found myself across the street from Sullivan Park.
If it were not for the fact that these buses ran on a strict route, I would have found it too good to be true. I knew some parts of the city well, and the rest not at all. The area from Sullivan Park down to Chapultepec and in the opposite direction to downtown I knew like the back of my hand, as the old saying went; I hadn’t studied that part of my anatomy in quite a while. No one had read the front of my hand lately either, but that wasn’t important right now.
This was apparently the end of the line for the bus, since everyone got off. I waited for everyone else to leave, wondering if the target had come here to see the art exhibitions only held on Sundays. It was the same line she’d taken on Friday, but it was possible that she usually got off at another stop. No way of knowing, other than to play it out, now.
Any doubt was erased as I saw her walk parallel to the park, making no attempt to enter it. She was heading east, past the park and toward the Monument to the Mother, so she might be going to Insurgentes, one block later, to catch another bus; I sent Tony and Lily to the gas station to tank up and wait for instructions.
But the target did not go that way. As I watched, musing how lucky it was that she liked wearing bright clothes, she turned north on Sadi Carnot. I followed her from across the street, using all the parked cars as a bit of camouflage. Being so close to Insurgentes, second biggest street after Paseo in the whole city, this area might be said to have middle-income housing, at least as American standards go, but it was pretty high class for Mexico City, excepting the areas like the Zona Rosa, Pedregal, and Bosques de Chapultepec, where mostly narco-rich lived.
The target went only halfway down the first block before entering one of the buildings. I was sure I couldn’t follow her so soon, and had no idea which room she would be going to anyway, so I found a good place to hide across the street and watched as she climbed the front stairs, barely catching glimpses of her through the windows in the staircase.
At the second floor from the top–I still got confused with the bottom floor is ground floor and second floor is first floor and all that stuff–I saw her pause at the window and look out. If she intended to see if she had been followed, she did her job poorly. As a matter of fact, as I saw her take out a key ring and search for one, she was giving her position away. That became even more apparent when she opened the door to the right of the window, in plain sight. It made me think: was she just innocent of the techniques, or was she leading her follower into a trap?
I continued watching the windows of the apartment she had entered, seeing glimpses of two figures outlined from a light on the inside, which was very quickly turned off. Unless I could get up on this building behind me and use the telephoto, and unless they put the lights back on, I would have no idea what was going on inside, and I was certainly not going to risk being caught acting like the infamous Peeping Tom, or the local version of it. People inside dark rooms could see out much better than anyone could see in anyway, so I waited where I was, dying for a 7-up which would only be half a block away and signaling for my troops to be ready for the next order. “And leave Lily alone, Tony. You know how jealous I can get.”
One million years later, or maybe forty-five minutes, the target came out again, now clad in a flower-print dress that she was attempting to smooth down repeatedly. The timing was right for a couple of quickies, considering that the gal wasn’t all that bad-looking, and bad guys like this one. . .
Never mind.
I informed my backup that the woman was leaving, but send only one person–in case this was a ruse–to follow her; it was still more likely my target was right here. Then I said I was going in.
“Be careful, darling,” I heard Lily say.
“What a great idea,” I muttered as I used a large truck to cover my crossing, then made my way into the building and took the stairs quickly but silently. Hardly pausing once I saw the cheap lock, I kicked the door open, gun held ready, and immediately saw movement in front of me. Without waiting for an invitation, I dove behind an upholstered chair and held my gun in the direction of the movement. Quickly glancing around, I saw it was a small apartment; that, added to what I thought had been going on the last hour, led me to the opinion that there was no one else in the place, though of course that was by no means positive.
Peering by the left side of the chair–most would expect me to be right-handed and look out the other way–I could not see any more movement, but my sharp eyes were able to pick out the barrel of a gun in the murky darkness of the other room. Aiming carefully, I set off one shot at the gun, then followed it with another lower and to the right, where the person would be hiding behind that dresser. I was rewarded by the whine of metal being struck, but was disappointed to hear the other bullet smack wood. The next second I heard the ricochet of the first bullet hit a wall, followed by the clunk of a gun hitting the floor.
The next sound I heard was that of a window being opened; having seen no fire escape outside, it was still not impossible for my prey to have a plan, as he was justified in his paranoia. Having to be cautious, not taking a chance that the man didn’t have another gun, I carefully walked into the other room, my own weapon at ready. A quick glance around told me I was alone, so I dashed to the open window and looked down, seeing the top of a dark head climbing down a rope. Immediately I thought about pulling the rope up, but knew there was little chance of bringing the guy in, so I settled for the next best thing: I whipped my knife out and cut the rope.
Unfortunately Adams–the bad guy in this scenario–was already far enough down to fall the rest of the way safely; I watched him get to his feet and sprint in the direction of Sullivan Park. Half-cursing for letting him get away, but pleased that he had taken that direction, I dashed down the stairs, trying to save enough breath to call in. “Inform Duke to put his plan into effect immediately. Tell him he’s the luckiest Scotsman in the world!”
There was no response, but then I didn’t expect any; Tony had obviously switched channels to call Duke. I hit the floor running and burst into the street, hot in pursuit, just in time to see the suspect turn right on Avenue James Sullivan.
Duke–my MI6 counterpart for this training session–and I had come up with a back-up plan in case I could not apprehend Adams cleanly, but never had we expected it to work out so well. Of course we’d known the route of the bus line, so we’d drawn up several contingencies, but it was a stunner to realize we couldn’t have possibly planned it better.
Never one for running, I took it easy, just keeping the man in sight as he dashed between the paintings throughout the park. I did not want to pursue too closely, for fear of loose gunplay, and I only hoped Adams didn’t get the idea of hostages in mind. Still, the guy had to be shaken, not having expected me to be on to him so soon; he was rattled and only thinking of escape.
I could only give the painters a pitying look as I followed the swath of destruction Adams left in his wake; obviously not being much for art, the man had gone through the park without a care as to the articles on sale. I followed at a discreet distance, though not getting close enough to knock else over. As I went along, I saw one beautiful rendition of the Caracol observatory at Chichen Itza; not bothering to stop, I told the painter, a rather young man, to save it for me, I’d be back real soon.
Adams finally came out of the park and crossed Villalongin at the movie theater, then hit River Marie; apparently he’d realized he had made a mistake earlier and should have aimed for the big crowds along Insurgentes, and was attempting to correct that now. When he reached Rio Lerma he crossed the street so he could get to the correct side of the next street, Rio Neva. One block away was Paseo de la Reforma, which would be even better than Insurgentes in the amount of people he could lose himself in.
A few steps before Adams hit Rio Neva, I shouted into the mic for #3 to start his run; when Adams turned the corner, he saw a man with a gun running toward him. A quick glance behind showed me still on his heels, and in the other direction of Rio Neva, another agent was coming. His only recourse was to continue on Rio Lerma.
The next cross street was Rio Guidiana, I knew, which was named after a place I was very familiar with up north. More importantly, it closed before reaching Paseo de la Reforma, so there was no need to put a man there. Adams saw this and continued on, hoping that his pursuers were not fast enough to close down either Rio Amazonas or the larger Rio Rhine {by now you should have figured out the streets in this colony were named after rivers, if you bothered to think about it.}
Both proved inaccessible to him, having more men running at him. There were even cars that burned rubber as soon as they saw him on the four-lane Rio Rhine, so he knew he had to continue on, braving the red light and barely avoiding a few other screeching cars.
Commencing to feel fatigued, but not about to give up, Adams searched for alternatives. This area of Mexico City was populated with large old mansions, which probably had guards that would help in the chase. However, if he could get into one without being spotted by either pursuers or guards, he was sure he could find a place to hide, thinking we wouldn’t have the jurisdiction or clout to force rich landowners to open their houses for a search.
To his amazement, he saw one of large mansions with the gate open, and no guards anywhere in the vicinity. As if to help him make his decision, he saw another man running toward him now, this one from the direction he was heading, pretty much cutting off his last route of escape.
It was not a hard decision to make; scooping up a fallen branch, which probably would shatter without much damage if bopped on someone’s head, he figured he could always pretend it was a gun in someone’s back.
He felt as if it was taking him forever to reach the front doors of the mansion as he now stumbled along the tree-lined cement path. Seeing that the door was made of cheap wood, he switched to overdrive and lunged his body at the door, fully expecting to go crashing in and disrupt someone’s elegant lunch.
Instead he was very surprised when the door opened and he flew through the air to land hard on the tiled floor.
“So nice o’ ye ta drop in,” he heard a Scottish burr say. “We’ve bin waitin’ for ye to stop by.” He found himself lying on the floor with a knee in his back, handcuffs quickly applied to his wrists as his arms were shoved behind his back. Then he was lifted up and turned around to face a man he knew very well: Alexander Southwood, known to some as Duke, newest graduate to the British Secret Service.
The door had been left open, and in came. . . lil’ ol’ me. Adams bared his teeth and struggled to get free, finally realizing he’d been snookered. Duke and I exchanged a high-five, though Scots weren’t all that coordinated for that kind of stuff. Then, ignoring the captive, I said, “Like taking candy from a baby.”
Adams sneered, he wasn’t about to go down without a fight. “You know you can’t hold me. You have no jurisdiction here.”
It was not often one heard the dour Scotsman laugh, but that just made this time all the more special as Duke purred, “Ya were apparently runnin’ so fast ya neglected to see the sign out front. This is the British Embassy ya were herded into. . .”
Adams collapsed like a balloon freshly punctured; it was a beautiful sight. . .
I was back in Sullivan Park, buying that painting, when I heard a voice behind me. “I think I deserve leniency. After all, I led you right to him.”
I didn’t have to turn around to realize it was the actress playing Adams’ gal. “I did think it was a bit too easy. But I don’t see why you have to be dragged into this. Go on with your life and maybe you’ll become a good lawyer, if there is such a thing.”
She didn’t question as to how I knew about her studies. “I hope you didn’t shoot up my apartment too much.”
Trying to look sheepish, but grinning too hard, I admitted there was a good possibility there was a bullet hole in her wall. “But we can look for something here that’ll cover it up. . . and then I can help you hang it. . .”


Dream of Mexico

So on Travel Thursday Encore last week, I wrote about one time in Mexico City where I did some spy training. . . part two coming up tomorrow. I’ve also been watching a Netflix show about several large cities around the world and their problems, with Mexico City the latest one.
And now, to my shock, I wanna go play tourist. . .
Mexico City, skyscraper, Torre Latinamericana
Similarly, I was huge into archaeology as a kid, thanks to that darned Indiana Jones. But even before that I found it fascinating, as I was looking through my mom’s photos and found myself at Monte Alban when I was about eight. Traveling throughout Mexico throughout the years, I’ve been to just about every site. . . except I always miss Tula!
Then in college I made the mistake of taking a field archaeology class. So it turns out I suck at both digging and examining what the digging uncovered. I was pretty good at finding sites, but that’s another story.
So that was that as far as a career, but I still love visiting sites. Just a couple of years ago I was in Jordan for my third time photographing Petra, and spent two days shooting everything, not just the famous part. Also whiled a day away at Jerash, a site hardly anyone has ever heard of.
Flash forward to thirty years later, or more like a couple of months ago, when I’m watching a Great Courses series on Mexican archaeology (if you have a Los Angeles city or county library card, you can watch them for free on Hoopla and Kanopy). As well as the series on South American archaeology, I find myself wanting to get back into that, especially finding sites. At the end of the Mexico series the professor, who is awesome, talked about wanting to look for evidence of a South American connection with the western coast of Mexico, and since that’s where my dad lives, it would be really easy for me to nip down there for some scouting. . . were some archaeology department disposed to pay my way, of course.


Travel Thursday Encore: It’s Not Stalkerish, It’s Training

At the request of someone who shall remain nameless–yes, it’s tough going through life without a name, but hang in there, persevere, so on–here’s the story of surveillance training in Mexico City.

The Universidad Autonoma de Mexico, better known as UNAM, is located on the south side of the huge metropolis known as Mexico City. I knew this huge campus better than most of the 270,000 students—if you can believe that number—having been all over with friends instead of just one particular part of the campus, whatever their study area might be. Finding it extremely amusing that the lady I would be following—to hopefully catch her bastard criminal boyfriend—would be coming out of the Law building, I set up shop on a bench under a tree and waited.
As I killed time I made sure I was ready for a lengthy tail, with plenty of money in case I had to hail a taxi, plus copious amounts of small coins necessary for buses and collectives, and more than enough metro tickets. My atlas of the city was tucked into the side pocket of my camera bag, which I was carrying not only on the off-chance of taking some pictures of the target in question but also for camouflage; my jeans, light jacket, and baseball cap rounded out my touristy look.
I had received a picture of the lady I’d be tailing by fax, which didn’t help much, but I figured I’d be able to recognize her. The written description claimed she had streaks of blonde hair, even more likely painted in this country than in others, and I was sitting close enough to the front door to keep a watch on it, but of course no one had told her she had to use this exit.
If I’d had more time, I could have set this up properly, having a man at every door, pictures of her to show people, more than enough men to put a box around her, backups in case someone was spotted. Surveillance would be made harder by the fact that I didn’t know how experienced the target was. Would she know enough to spot a tail, or be completely oblivious? Depending on that answer, I could then formulate my approach to the situ–
No time left to wonder; there she was.
The photo hadn’t shown it, but she was very attractive, pretty enough to turn a man’s head briefly, though no movie star. Her hair had been blonde once, as a kid, but had changed somewhere along the way. Nice legs, better than average figure, didn’t dress rich enough to make me think her body had been surgically enhanced. Too bad she was hanging around the bed of a major-league bad guy. . .
But none of that mattered. Much to my delight, I found she was wearing a bright red sweater, one that I would be able to see from a distance; I’d have no problem keeping her in sight.
She led the way to the metro, dropping down the stairs into the bowels at the beginning of line 3. The ends of each line were always crowded, and it was going-home time for most, so it made for an incredibly tight space as we waited for the next train. The crowds, as with everything else so far, had its good and bad points: I was almost certain not to be spotted, of course, but if she made a sudden move, I would be hard-pressed to stay with her.
She got on through the last door of one car, forcing me to enter the first door of the next one. I did not find this satisfactory at all; if it hadn’t been so crowded, I would be able to see her through the windows of the always-closed connecting doors, but the crush made it impossible to see anything.
The metro left, northward-bound. I stayed near the entrance and looked up at the route above the center seats. I knew the stations by heart, but I wanted to see on which side of the cars the doors would open. The poster didn’t say; either someone had taken the info I needed down or all the doors opened on the same side all the way down the line. I knew which one of those alternatives I preferred, since it would be impossible to get from one side of the sardine-like train car to the other in a hurry.
At every stop, so far all of them on the same side, I held on to the bar while swinging my head just enough to see out the door. Many of the people getting on didn’t like it, and it was best in such cases to be inconspicuous all the time and not raise a scene, but it was the best compromise I could get away with.
Things only got worse, if that was possible, as we headed toward downtown. All the people who worked between there and the university and lived toward the north were trying to pack the sardine tin ride even tighter. It was getting harder for me to keep an eye on the exit at every station, and there were more than a few irritated people by now.
Finally, at the tenth station, Centro Medico, I saw the flash of red about ten feet in front of me. I quickly stepped out and moved away from the door, then waited for all the rest to get on and off. I wanted her to get a bit ahead of me, but I hadn’t realized this was a transit point to line 9. When I did, I moved after her at one and a quarter speed, not enough to look suspicious, just another guy who was in a hurry. I made the most of my weaving talents, learned from years of trying to avoid being caught by linebackers and safeties and sadistic soccer defenders–well, that last one was redundant. I even skipped the escalator; if I’d realized I’d actually used the dreaded stairs, I would have been surprised at myself, but this time speed and mobility were more important than my irrational hate—fear?—of the sedentary climbing apparatus.
Though it was full, it was not the worst I could have drawn. If she had gotten off two stops later at Balderas, the transit point between lines 1 and 3, it would have been a complete seething mass of insect-like humanity, being one of the three busiest stops, kinda like Times Square on New Year’s Eve when someone was handing out thousand-dollar bills.
Sorta. . .
I followed the target, hoping no one else was wearing something so brightly red, as she led me to the line 9 landing that would head for Observatory. Good; we would be heading away from the center of town, so it wouldn’t be as full. The landing was still crowded, but not like the last two. I reasoned I could be as much as two cars away from her this time.
I watched her as she checked the time; apparently satisfied by what the watch told her, she leaned back against the wall and let the first train fill up. I suspected we had made good time from the University and she was in no hurry now. This told me she was probably going home from here, maybe on foot. Luckily a few other people decided to chance the next one, so I didn’t look like I was waiting for her.
Unfortunately, time turned out not to be the case.
Line 9, not the last to be built–somehow it was done before line 8–had far fewer stations than the earlier-built routes, and in only three stops we were at the end of the line, Tacubaya. Of course it was crowded, since everyone had to get off, but I managed to consistently be about 20 feet behind her as I surreptitiously checked my map book while keeping an eye on both her and the other peds. I especially had to watch out for vendors, who often set their wares up in the middle of the walkways during the lonely day and were now in the middle of everything.
As I finally got to the page, I found with a shock that it wouldn’t be needed. She was not heading for any of the exits or the connecting trolley lines; she was heading for the transfer point with line 1.
Line 1 had been built in the late sixties, the first, this time being logical in a numerical sense. It went all the way from west to east while cutting through the center of town. The west terminus was also the west bus station, for those who took the one-hour commute from their homes in the nearby city of Toluca. But it was soon discovered that this line was carrying far more people than the other two lines at the time, and none of the planned routes would do much to ease that. The solution was to build another line that would start and end at the same place, but bypass the center so people going from one end to the other could avoid the heavy crowds in the center.
In this they were only partially successful, but it was still easy to tell the difference, I thought as I kept the tail, immensely suspicious; I couldn’t figure out why she’d hop from one line to the other. It was very possible that I’d been spotted; another thought was that she did this all the time in case someone was following her, but that didn’t jive very well with her time check. Still. . .
Line 1 was seething, far more than line 3. This time I managed to get into the same car and keep an eye on the back side of her red sweater. I noticed she was standing near the door, so I stayed close to my own exit.
She got off after only two stops, at Chapultepec. Hardly anyone else exited at this station, but there were many people waiting to get on, most of them tourists who had been at the park all day and were now heading downtown.
Now I saw what she’d done and had to admire her logic. Instead of getting off at what was sure to be the busiest transit point in the world, she’d taken a more circuitous route, and had probably saved time and a few gropings in the bargain. Now she waited for everyone to get into the cars before making her way out of the station, where I followed her up the stairs at a discreet distance, knowing that the first thing we would come to would be a fountain, followed by the fence delineating the huge park. Glancing at my watch, I saw it was almost seven. Time flew on the metro, though it didn’t feel like it in the crowds. I knew the park ordinarily closed at five but was kept open late on Fridays and Saturdays, probably till dusk.
She made straight for the entrance, but the guard, one of the short guys in epaulets, wouldn’t let her through. I got as close as I could and took out a light meter from my bag to point it toward the castle on the hilltop, listening intently. She asked the guard how she could get to Paseo de la Reforma if she couldn’t cross through the park, so he pointed the way to take the long route, which would eventually lead her to the Statue of Diana, I knew. She thanked him and went on her merry way.
Obviously dissatisfied with the remaining light at dusk to take the picture, I went up to the guard and asked him, in very broken Spanish, how to get to the Presidente hotel, which I well-knew was a little past the Anthropology Museum. I was offered the same route as the red sweater, so there was no suspicion when I began following her again; in fact, I had to hide a grin when the cop told me to simply follow the lady.
It was a pretty long walk, and darkness had just about set in, but the red sweater was visible a long way away. She seemed to be walking fast, faster than her natural pace, and for the first time I noticed that though she had just gotten out of classes, she carried no books. I made my stride longer, but it was clear she was outdistancing me.
I tried to hold my breath as we passed a bus depot, the ancient machines spewing even more poison into the air; hopefully no birds would crash on my head. A little farther on we came to an oxygen booth, where for a minimal price you could get one minute of the pure life-giving gas, but I had no time for that, even if the line had not been so long.
It seemed like I’d been following her for hours. Due to my exertions of the day, I was getting pretty tired, but I’d never had a problem with simple walking; one foot in front of the other and ignoring the pain signals from the feet was all it took. What was so hard about that? I couldn’t rest until I got back to the hotel anyway, so pain and fatigue didn’t matter, right? Right? Somebody answer me. . .
Finally we arrived at a place I recognized, a big old building that would lead onto Paseo de la Reforma. I wondered how I could cross the huge street without drawing attention from her.
When I got to the huge street, she was gone.
I did not panic; instead I looked around like a simple lost tourist. It was an unusually quiet moment on the street, which meant there was a red light down by the Anthropology Museum. There were no taxis, buses, collectives, or even cars pulling away from my position. So where the hell was she?
Suddenly I saw the flash of red across the street, coming out of an underground tunnel. Glancing hastily to the right, I saw the entrance to the sub-surface passage, which hadn’t been here the last time I’d passed through. Quickly making my way down the stairs, I ran through the tunnel at full speed, some wise guy assuring me the cars couldn’t get me down here. I managed to ignore that as I climbed slowly up the stairs, catching my breath and making sure she wouldn’t notice me.
I found myself right in front of the statue of Diana, and the lady in red was gone again. Too bad the bronze figure couldn’t tell me. Venus might have, but not Diana, though technically I was doing some hunting, and she was the huntress. . .
My mind was babbling, so I had to choke those thoughts down ruthlessly. Glancing right, I could see the long line of Paseo de la Reforma heading toward the Zona Rosa; no red. She could have gone into one of those buildings, but I doubted it. Then I looked past the statue at the freeway which passed underneath. She was not on the bridges bordering to either side. So left it was.
I had a swell time crossing the entrance to the freeway. To my disgust, a station wagon stopping in front of me, where a woman was driving and a man rolled down the window to ask me directions. Not wanting any delay and trying not to feel sorry for them, I gave them a quick “no hablo espanol” and walked past the wagon. I noticed the woman laughing as she started the car up, and I had time to see she was good-looking before going on; instincts popped up in the strangest places. . .
Before me was the part of Paseo de la Reforma that headed away from downtown; it would continue through the rest of the city and become the highway to Toluca, but right in front of me was a long, tree-lined walk that would lead to the Art and Anthro museums. Even though it was crowded, I saw no red among the walkers.
That left only the street that followed in the direction we’d been heading. There was a huge building occupying the space between the street and the freeway entrance, so I had to get to the side of it to see down the street. There, far in the distance, I saw the lady in red.
Trying not to grin, I picked up the pace, but let her remain quite a bit ahead of me. Once or twice I lost sight of her, but by the time I had reached the place she had disappeared, I’d caught sight of her again. It turned into another long and boring walk.
I’d been closing in on her, sensing she was reaching her destination, when she dropped from sight again. This time she was nowhere to be found, and I was stopped by a red light at the intersection. I did not allow my frustration to show, though I did shake my head in disgust for a small instant.
It was enough; the shake had moved my head to the left far enough to see a red sweater entering the building across the street. Fate played tricks on me all the time, and sometimes I managed to pay her back. . . or something like that.
Knowing it was too late to cross the street behind her, I waited for the green light in front of me and crossed that street, then waited for the next light to cross left. This cross street dead ended into the building, so once I made it across I climbed the stairs and went in.
Having no idea about the building as I went in through the double doors, I realized the first glance didn’t help. Didn’t seem like an office building, but there were a number of desks to the left side. The corridor that led from the doors continued forward for about twenty feet before being interrupted by a security gate. Interesting!
Completely ignorant, I was not about to try to talk my way in. Instead I looked around, as if searching for someone, which was true, then sighed and reclined against the wall by the door. Any person noticing me as I glanced at my watch would assume I was waiting for someone. . . which was true as well.
To pass the time I read the bulletin board behind me, instantly noticing every single ad had a sports theme: doubles partner needed, new volleyball team being developed, so on. Nothing about skating, I thought wryly as I read every single one.
Turning back to the doors and heading outside, on the steps I had just mounted, I spotted a man sitting and reading a newspaper. Next to him was a small window that various people approached, passing off sports equipment to him; he opened the window and tossed the equipment inside haphazardly, showing the dedication of workers all over this country.
Feeling the weariness, I sat on the stone railing of the stairs, at the very bottom. Still a little elevated from ground level, I could now see, off to my right, a swimming pool beyond the fence. I had more than enough evidence, but wanting to make sure, I took out the atlas and quickly located where I found myself at the moment.
Chapultepec Sporting Facilities and Country Club.
Now what? Did I check in and inform the locals to get some surveillance to my location on the double? I was really tired, and I had no wish to do any more following. I also didn’t feel like waiting, since she might be in there quite a while.
I was still looking at the map book when she came out. Sitting facing away from the doors, I knew she wouldn’t recognize my back, but I also didn’t want her to see me and maybe recognize me later. I was a bit surprised to see her again so soon, but I noticed she now had a bag; a bit of logic told me she probably had a locker and had only come to pick something up.
I waited for her to get ahead again. She did not cross the street this time, but walked back in the direction we had come from. I was just about to get up and follow when I heard a male voice calling her name. Luckily it was dark enough for me to stare at the caller without suspicions being aroused.
The man was in the center divider of the street; not waiting for permission from the traffic light, he dashed across at the first opportunity to where the target was waiting patiently. When he jumped onto the sidewalk she gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek, calling him Tigre, which inspired me to roll my eyes like a teenage girl at what was obviously a nickname he’d given himself to try to affect impressionable young ladies like her.
They talked for less than a minute, and then she walked away laughing. Tigre came towards me, climbing the stairs and going in, giving me a smile as he passed. I smiled back and gave a shake of my head as if to announce I was suitably jealous.
Making sure Tigre wasn’t watching me, I finally got up and followed the target again. She had a long head start by now, but this side of the street was much less crowded; I had no trouble keeping her in sight until we got to Paseo de la Reforma again. As soon as she made the turn toward the Anthro museum, she flagged down a passing collective mini-bus.
In a flash I was sitting at one of the many benches on the sidewalk and whipping out my telescopic lens. There was just enough light to make out the logo—Route 2—and I could even see her paying the driver and finding a seat before the bus managed to get back into the heavy traffic.
I thought about flagging down a taxi, but instead went back to the club, calling it in along the way, requesting two surveillance teams: one to jump the bus route and hopefully follow it in time to see her get off, and the other to take over for me at the club, for I had a very sneaking suspicion about Tigre. . .

To be continued. . .


Poetry Tuesday: Be Indomitable O My Heart

In the fifteenth century there was a king close to what is now modern day Mexico City who liked to write poetry. Weird, huh? Make sure to spell his name right if you google him: Nezahualcoyotl of Texcoco.

Be Indomitable, O my heart!
Love only the sunflower;
It is the flower of the Giver-Of-Life!
What can my heart do?
Have we come, have we sojourned here on earth in vain?

As the flowers wither, I shall go.
Will there be nothing of my glory ever?
Will there be nothing of my fame on earth?
At most songs, at most flowers.
What can my heart do?
Have we come, have we sojourned here on earth in vain?

(If you’re familiar with my poetry choices, you might see the pattern: I love poems with the same theme as Shelly’s Ozymandias.)


Poetry Tuesday: On The Death Of That Most Excellent Lady

By my mom’s fave poet, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (Mexico, 1648-1695).

Let them die with you, Laura, now you are dead,
these longings that go out to you in vain,
these eyes on whom you once bestowed
a lovely light never to gleam again.

Let this unfortunate lyre that echoes still
to sounds you woke, perish calling your name,
and may these clumsy scribblings represent
black tears my pen has shed to ease its pain.

Let Death himself feel pity, and regret
that, bound by his own law, he could not spare you,
and Love lament the bitter circumstance

that if once, in his desire for pleasure,
he wished for eyes that they might feast on you,
now weeping is all those eyes could ever do.


Book Reviews: Three Mysteries and the Future of Sex

Mark Twain
Always do right—this will gratify some and astonish the rest.

Truth or Die
With this being the fifth I’ve read in the series, it feels comfortable, like an old hoodie on a sprinkly day. This one takes place in Central California, at an art/music fair in Carmel. An ex-military psychologist—who obviously knows a lot of secrets—a Navy tragedy, people looking for revenge and extortion, all figure in this mystery where the detective, as always in this series, is surrounded by women who want him even when he’s with his girlfriend.
In this case he helps out because he knows the widow, who is of course the main suspect; his girlfriend, for once, doesn’t seem to mind. This edition of the series had more characters, and therefore more suspects, than most, which didn’t help, but overall it was just as good as the others, and much better than the first in the series, which is the last one I read. The sinking of the navy ship was real, but the rest of the story isn’t, unless it was some long-buried secret, which is doubtful.
So basically if you’ve liked others in the series, you won’t complain about this one. And if it’s your first time with this author, this is a pretty good intro.

In Gallup, Greed
This is not the first book in the series, which may explain why there were so many characters; since I didn’t read the previous story, it felt like there were too many to keep track of, to the point where I had to go back to check who the heck they were, which annoyed me no end. Most times I would have given up on a book like this; this one I didn’t and it got better, though by the end I was still having trouble with some of the main characters whose names were similar.
Another tough thing to deal with was the changes in narration: I could have taken first person and one third person, but with so many alternating characters being followed—plus first person—things got confusing in a hurry.
Something else that I felt didn’t work: since I could only think of one reason the bad guys would be running such a scam at an art gallery, there wasn’t much of a mystery to it. About halfway through it’s said outright, which means there wasn’t all the much plot here.
But the worst part was that at the end, when the killer is unmasked, I couldn’t remember any clues that would have allowed me to figure out who the killer was, which violates the primary commandment of giving the audience a chance to outwit the author.
On the plus side the writing was pretty good, as well as the characterization of the main character, Cinnamon. Weird fact of the day: since reading this book I’ve smelled cinnamon everywhere. . .

The Future of Sex
This novella made my mind shout “Boom!” numerous times; thankfully it didn’t get as annoying as it sounds.
At its most basic this is a story about a young woman who wants to be the ultimate sex provider in a world where such people are cherished. Her youth and lack of training are held against her, but she’s given a chance to prove herself, allowing the author to express some particular theories, specifically about the nature of intuition when it comes to sex, and more general the ability to “Sherlock scan” an individual, read the small nuances in their manner and speech and so on.
I was loving this right away, as it brought a new perspective to such a story, one I wholeheartedly agree with. The level of intuitiveness goes right to the theory of “naturalness,” which I have discoursed on often myself. It’s like the author is reading my mind the same way the main character reads her marks. . . which also means I love Chloe; she can screw with my mind any day. Thankfully I knew this was a novella coming in, and intuited—inside joke—this would be a set-up and not the whole story itself.
Though I’ve read this author before, I was far more impressed here. As stated, some of this author’s philosophies mesh with mine so closely that I can’t be at all sure if this is what’s behind my high opinion, and therefore grade. It’s still a well-written introduction to a long story that promises to be a fun ride.

Aztec Midnight
This is a novella about an archaeologist hunting for an Aztec artifact, in a race to find it before bad guys do. It’s so short I actually told myself, “Let’s see if I can read this whole thing at the doctor’s office. . .”
Though it’s set in the lovely city of Cuernavaca, the setting isn’t used to full advantage; it isn’t till we get to the ancient Aztec site that things take off, though the archaeological detective work is delicious to read through.
Sadly, the only one surprised that his wife was kidnapped was him; that doesn’t say much about him, especially since he didn’t seem like the kind of acadamian who can’t survive outside of the classroom. That could be blamed on this being such a short story, though the next twist was surprising when I knew there wasn’t much left to go.
Not sure how I feel about it; the archaeology part was fun, the thriller part not as much. I particularly disliked the introduction of a crow as his personal GPS; I don’t think a fantasy element was needed here.


Book Reviews: Murder, Martians, and Actresses

Overheard outside UCLA hospital: “She’d be good for transplants; she hasn’t rejected an organ since high school.”

Yucatán Is Murder
There’s an intriguing murder mystery inside this book, but it’s gonna take a huge amount of editing to carve it out.
As implied in the title, this takes place in southeastern Mexico, from Merida to the coast. A freelance scientist is helping his significant other with a sociological/medical project among the native Maya. The first murder takes place and the scientist finds the body because he likes birds, in this case vultures. The police don’t care, so he takes it upon himself to solve the crime, as he’s done in previous novels, I’m sure. As expected from this kind of story, he gets himself into trouble with the killers and not only becomes a target, but gets others killed too.
I am a very fast reader, but this took forever: far too long and plodding, with overly stretched philosophical rambles and discussions as well as tons of description and scientific explanations. The most clever moment was using Mayan glyphs for a hidden message, and there’s a lot to learn from the various scientific disciplines he knows, but it’s overdone and told in a style too matter-of-fact to enjoy.

A couple is tricked into the desert to be fodder for a sniper who’s done this before, a lot. Along with another group of three they have to survive the bad guy and his assistants.
It’s hard to believe such a story, which takes place in one day and half a night, could take up so many pages. This was far more interesting and enjoyable than I would have expected, in a way reminding me of a running battle between a destroyer and a sub. There’s also plenty of psychological fun, particularly between the sniper and the protagonist but among others as well. I think it’s silly of them to push this as “The Most Gripping Suspense Thriller You Will Ever Read!” and will ultimately work against them, but it is a damned good story despite those impossible expectations.

Joi Lansing—A Body to Die For
There are plenty of actresses famous for their looks who, despite having decent careers, are quickly forgotten. This is the partial biography of one of them, as told by her last lover and self-proclaimed love of her life.
As someone who’s read a lot on TV shows of the 60s and 70s, I can name plenty of actresses who had moderate success while trying to be the next Marilyn, but Joi Lansing was never one of those names. Looking her up on the internet, one can see why this book is given that subtitle. Though wary because this was written by someone who wants to make her look good, it seems she was one of those genuinely nice people in Hollywood who, while making some friends and contacts, was swallowed up by the movie-making machine that could turn saints into assholes. If this book is to be believed, she was not one of them, keeping her upbeat demeanor and vivacity to the end. And it’s that very end that is the center of this book, making it a tough read at times. By the last chapter I was glad it was over, both her suffering and the reading.
Even though it’s a biography, this can also serve as a cautionary tale of the kind of shit rich powerful men pull on gorgeous young ladies trying to get by in the business of making movies. One can only hope the situation has gotten better, though from some of the stuff described here it’s hard to believe it can get worse.

Aoleon, The Martian Girl
An action-packed science-fiction short likely made for pre-teens, it involves a young Martian girl who is the reason for those crop circles seen on farms all the time. When she’s not very careful about being discreet she runs into a farmboy, and together they get chased by a three-legged dog and a sleepy farmer that necessitates them escaping together in her flying saucer.
There’s a wry humor here that sneaks up on you; if you’re not paying attention you might miss it. Her telepathic abilities allow them to communicate easily, so of course he has to be careful what he thinks, leading to more comedy.
The second part of the story involves various military aircraft trying to shoot them down. While the action is well written and would have fit right in with an adult genre, this is ridiculous in a book meant for kids. From all the broken glass as they sonic-boom all over the country, to the panicky fishermen that jump into the frigid water to escape a crash, to a whole Ferris wheel rolling down the street in Paris. . . can you imagine how many people must have been killed in what is portrayed as a fun romp without any consequences?
I will say the artwork is well done. It doesn’t have a real ending, just a hook for the next part, allowing this to be a quick and easy read.


Travel Thursday: More Training in Mexico City, part 1

Sitting on a bench across the way from an attractive lady who was watching me just as intently when she wasn’t distracted by potential buyers was not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon in what many people considered the world’s largest city. Today the sky looked only moderately black, perhaps because there were less vehicles out on the streets. Insurgentes seemed equally crowded, but the ride on the Metro convinced me most people where elsewhere than in cars.

They’d told me to take things seriously, for training was supposed to simulate real-life situations, but I found it hard to do so after a huge Italian meal at a restaurant on the other side of Sullivan Park. Still, I had to give those tasked with finding and following me a few hints. It wouldn’t be any fun just staying away from them; I had to let them see me and then get away, otherwise I was due for a boring day.

It was still early, so I walked around Sullivan Park, gawking at the paintings but hoping I wouldn’t spot anything I liked, because I didn’t have either the time or the inclination to stick around here too long. And with that I realized I was pumped for the game too; for one brief second earlier I’d thought of letting them capture me so I could be released from this silly competition and allowed to go my own way, but again, what fun would that be?

Being in a giant city gave me an advantage, and right now I was close to downtown; a slight smile permeated my face as I remembered the first time I’d tried to find this park; when I told the taximan it was “just off Insurgentes,” the driver had thrown me an irritated look while shouting, “Every part of town is just off Insurgentes! The street is thirty-five miles long!”

Sullivan Park was just like every other park in the city, or in the world, for that matter, except on Sundays. Every week the most renowned painters and sculptors of the city and beyond came to exhibit. Competition to show off the wares here was fierce; most artists had exhibited all over the world, and all it took was the right word to have them gleefully pull out the scrapbook of posters or exhibition cards. Oddly enough, more than a few of them had shown at the Playboy Mansion; I wasn’t sure what to think of that, and finally decided not to, at least not right now.

Near the Monument to the Mother something caught my eye, a young man–by far the youngest I’d ever seen here–whose specialty seemed to be alien landscapes. For such a young artist to be allowed here, he had to be good, and sci-fi stuff wasn’t exactly the main topic in these here parts. . .

Yeah, it was too good to pass up. Selecting two of the paintings, I paid the price without haggling. The young man was so overjoyed he offered to deliver them to my hotel free of charge. My only condition was that he re-sign them, larger than the first time; When he was a world-renown artist, I wanted the world to know I’d been one of the first to recognize such talent. . .

Time to walk on. I saw my old friend the miniature artist still in his usual place; some of his art was so small a magnifying glass was needed, but those rarely were on show. A few years before I’d commissioned a painting of a redhead figure skater from my past, and had given him permission to duplicate it for sale; now I saw those little things in the damnedest places all over the world! Still, I was secure in the knowledge that the original was in a special place in my apartment back in El Lay.

The park always seemed bigger on Sundays, but finally I was back where I started, with the attractive lady in her 30s who seemed to remember me from previous visits. Her paintings were also in the fantasy genre, but more of the unicorn variety. One was lying on a lily pad, surrounded by all types of strange flowers, while in another the animal was inside a sphere, trying to break out. At least there weren’t any velvet ones of a unicorn on an alien cliff looking at two moons like I’d seen in Tijuana, but on the other hand if she got together with the youngster I’d bought from earlier that might be exactly what they’d do.

Knowing she knew I’d be back, I walked on. On the sidewalk of one of the side streets I came across another young man; perhaps in the time I’d been away several of the oldsters had died. None of these paintings impressed me much, either uninteresting artistically or mundane in subject. But I admit to releasing an involuntary gasp at the last one. Even I couldn’t tell ya why, it was just a statue in a fountain, but I stared at it for a good five minutes, not able to pull my eyes away. It didn’t take the artist long to become uneasy; no one had ever had such a reaction to his works before.

I finally uttered a few magical words–“Five hundred dollars”–and sent the artist into orbit; later he told he’d been expecting a fight for one hundred. Since he was friends with the previous guy, they agreed to join the deliveries, and that was that, deal done.

Now I walking in the middle of the park, where the abstracts tended to congregate, when I came across a chess match. An older gentleman was taking full advantage of a much younger opponent; the youth saw no escape from the trap on his home turf, and was about to tip over his king when I asked if I could take over. Having been given permission, I showed him the only escape, much to the chagrin of the old man.

I was still well behind, and knew there was no possible way to win, but I figured on taking out a number of the opponent’s pieces before going down in flames. And indeed, people leaned in to get a closer look as I slowly but surely made up some of the enormous disadvantage. My favorite ploy–probably because I found myself in that situation way too often–had always been the desperate counterattack, and once my defenses were reasonable secure, I sent my rooks on kamikaze runs. The first put his king in check, and with no possibility of a block he was forced to move forward out of the way, allowing my rook to make its way along the endline to gobble the opposing rook, still in its original position. The pawns in front had also not moved, so I managed to take out two of them and a knight before finally being subdued.

The other rook was even more successful. Not giving the opponent time to rest, it maneuvered its way to the point where it was online with the king and queen. Again finding itself in check, the king moved out of the way, leaving the queen unprotected, and the rook proceeded to ravish her. . . in a chess-like way of course.

There were oohs and aabs from the crowd, and my opponent was sweating. I wanted to tell him not to worry, that it was way past the time he could possibly lose, but there was no point to that, and he wouldn’t believe it anyway; in this regard, chess was a lot like poker.

Once my two remaining pieces were gone, I led the opponent’s remaining bishop on a merry chase, inching slowly but surely toward the king, but the old man wouldn’t fall for that, so finally I gave way, standing to shake the man’s hand while giving the youth a slap on the back. To my surprise, I found myself not only tired but, incredibly, hungry; I’d heard that Italian food kept hunger at bay for a good three or four days, but maybe I’d gotten the light version. More importantly, figuring the make-believe enemy was now in place somewhere around me, I wanted to get the game underway. . .