The man in the suit had pleaded and he had begged, it made no difference to Esmeralda. She had left him and his ruined suit in the concrete room still bound to the table. She had pulled a name from him, much against his will.
The crowds were still in full swing and no one really looked twice at the foreign woman with the black case and stained hands. She sat at a small fountain and ran them through the cool water, washing away the deed. She had hoped she would never have to let this side of her out again, what would Cooper think if he had seen what she had done. He would understand, wouldn’t he? That didn’t matter, not for the moment anyway. What mattered was finding him. Diaz, just a name but one that apparently ran things in these parts. This wasn’t like home where she knew all the players on the board, where she knew who’s toes or neck she could step on. It wouldn’t do to upset the local business,it would cause more problems than it would solve. She had to find one of their own.
Like any other town or city on the planet, if you wanted to find something or someone that didn’t wish to be found, you simply had to make it worth the while of the street children.
“Niño,” she called to one of the boys and beckoned him over with on finger. The boy approached cautiously. She wished she had paid more attention in her high school spanish lessons. She rolled up her sleeve and motioned to the small birthmark on the inside of her left forearm. She waved her right hand over it and it began to glow faintly revealing a three spiral triskele. She pointed to herself “Witch, Bruja,” the child stepped back quickly and she held up her hands to him, “No harm, sin daño.” She gestured to herself again, “Bruja,” then to the surrounding area, “where?” The boy looked at her blankly. She pulled out her phone and quickly brought up a search, “dónde bruja, dónde brujo?” still the boy did nothing. Perhaps the translation was wrong.
“Dinero,” he said quietly.
Money, of course, the boy wanted money. Information was never free. Esmeralda pulled a handful of pesos from her pocket and stuffed them into the boy’s hands. He counted them out, twice, and put them into his sock, seemingly satisfied and motioned her to follow him.
The boy led her through the winding back streets and alleys, the noise of the parade falling into the distance. Here, away from the main streets, people celebrated the day in a more subdued manner. Families gathered around small altars and photos of departed loved ones, there were no flashy costumes or loud music, just honesty and loss. Before long she found herself in a small courtyard of tall stone houses, wooden balconies and lines of washing running between them. The boy waved her to a stop then pointed for her to stay. He approached a younger woman who was sweeping and began to talk so fast that Esmeralda had no hope of keeping up. The woman looked her over and shooed the boy away. She beckoned Esmeralda and showed her to a tall house with a green door.
“Mamá Vega, bruja,” Esmeralda nodded her thanks and knocked quickly upon the door. It smelled faintly of cinnamon.
“Come in child,” an old voice called. Well at least she spoke English, that would help things. The door opened easily to a room well lit by windows. The walls were lined in all manner of jars and herbs and curious boxes to which Esmeralda could only guess the contents. An old woman draped in a shawl had her back to her, working over the stove. “You are a long way from home child,” she said without turning.
“I’m looking for help,” Esmeralda said. The old woman took some dried leaves from a jar and dropped them into a pot. She said nothing for a few moments, concentrating on the task at hand. She stirred the pot and poured a small cup.
“There are many forms of help child,” the old woman turned and pressed the cup into her free hand. She seemed ancient. “Tea will help,” she said moving to a chair by the window. “You have a death upon you, fresh and violent,” her eyes were clouded but Esmeralda knew they could see, they could probably see better than she ever could, see things she never could. “They call me Mamá Vega, but we both know that names can be misleading. What is you want of me Ms Highdale?” Esmeralda raised an eyebrow at that “Yes I know you, know your family, sangre veija,” It was obvious this was the woman to speak to.
“I’m looking for someone called Diaz, they took someone from me,” she sipped the tea, it was bitter but enjoyable. Mamá Vega nodded as if she already knew this, she probably did.
“You come to me for this thing?” she asked. Esmeralda shook her head.
“No, I can deal with this Diaz. I don’t have time to search for him myself which is why I have come to you, and as a polite notice that I am going to…ruffle some feathers.”
“Polite notice,” the old lady echoed. Esmeralda sipped her tea and waited. “Many folk called Diaz, but only one here who will take things. I know this man, I have no love nor use of him,” Mamá Vega waved a hand dismissively. Her heart jumped.
“Where can I find him?” she asked eagerly. The old woman tutted and shook a wrinkled finger at her.
“Nothing is free child. There will be a price, you know this,” Mamá Vega smiled revealing yellowed teeth.
“I’m willing to pay it,” she said without hesitation.
“You are not knowing the cost.”
“I am willing to pay it,” Esmeralda bit off each word. The old woman smiled wider and she clapped her hands together happily
“Sí, bruja poderosa. I do this with respect, for you, for your family,” she bowed her head solemnly, “I will call. When I call you will answer me. Answer is the cost.” Esmeralda nodded knowing it would not be anything so simple. The old woman tore a page from a small book and noted something down quickly. “Here,” Mamá Vega said simply. She took it and turned it over, just an address on a piece of paper.
“This is it?” she asked. The old woman laughed as she stood and returned to her stove
“You were expecting a magic acorn perhaps?” The old woman began mixing herbs in a small mortar and pestle ignoring the young woman in her kitchen. It looked like she was done here. Tucking the paper into her pocket she stepped back out into the courtyard and headed back towards the main road.
The snow had been falling lightly outside, it was always a pleasure to watch it snow from the warmth of the living room. This is how winter evenings were supposed to be. Together on the couch with a blanket. It was dark, their faces lit only by the light of their phones.
“New York?” he suggested scrolling through locations.
“No,” she said flatly. He looked confused for a moment.
“I thought you wanted to go to New York?” he said. He listened at least, “New York would be great.”
“Yeah, but not then, I want to see New York in the winter. Christmas in New York, can you imagine what that’s like?” she said excitedly imagining the snow covered park, the lights and the trees.
“I can imagine how expensive it will be,” he grumbled. He was such a grinch at times. She nudged him with her foot.
“Shut that hole in your face,” she laughed, “somewhere warm, we should go somewhere warm.”
“Like Malta or something,” he made a face. He was like this, he preferred colder places, usually with trees or mountains, lakes or mud. Not really what she had in mind for a honeymoon.
“Yes somewhere warm, but somewhere we can have a bit of an adventure,” he perked up at adventure, “South America or Australia, somewhere like that.”
“I’ll show you adventure,” he said leaning in and kissing her neck. She rapped him on the nose with her finger.
“No, we need to make a decision,” he puffed up his cheeks and pouted.
“Too many things want to eat me or poison me in Australia. No matter what size they are all the animals are a bit…bitey,” he scrunched up his face to what she supposed was an impression of a spider.
“Brazil or Hawaii, oh!” she had an idea, “Mexico, day of the dead. That would be great and the wedding is just in time for it. An adventure honeymoon.” She didn’t need to convince him, his eyes had lit up at the thought. She snuggled closer to him, happy to watch the snow fall from the comfort of the couch.