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Miguel

“Hello.”

I was not asleep. More in that half waking, half sleeping state of drowziness brought on by hot sun and the distant sound of laughter from the revellers in the hotel swimming pool. I opened my eyes.

He was about fourteen years old, slender and with the pouty-mouthed, dark-eyed good looks one sometimes finds in south-east Asia when Spanish blood mingles with that of the indigenous peoples. His cream shirt, open at the neck, was clean and newly pressed. His hair was neatly brushed. His teeth were as white and well cared for as any dentist could wish and even his sandals were clean and unscuffed.

I responded cautiously, “Hello.”

He smiled and sat down cross-legged, hitching up his shorts to reveal an expanse of sunburnt thighs. I was almost certain that it was deliberate. Like everyone else, I had heard about the reputation of the country for attracting paedophiles and it was obvious that where there was a demand, others – even others as young as this boy – would move in to cater to it.

“It is very hot to-day.”

“Yes,” I said.

I looked at him carefully, not being quite sure how to proceed. I was a stranger in San Pedro, having arrived on business from Europe only a few days previously. I spoke neither Spanish nor the local language and didn’t want to jump too quickly to a mistaken conclusion. I had seen him before around the hotel, usually talking to one of the German visitors. His presence was obviously tolerated by the hotel staff. For all I knew, he was the owner’s son.

“You are English?”

“Yes.”

“I am Miguel. I am a guide.”

“Are you?”

“Yes. I am a good guide. I speak very good English.”

“Does the hotel know about you?”

“Oh, yes. They know me very well.”

Now, I did, indeed, have a need for a guide. The area around San Pedro is not really on the regular tourist route and I had found that few people spoke English. Moreover, there was no tourist office either in the town or the hotel and, indeed, they had told me only that morning that there were no guides available locally. I needed to be able to get to know the area – as a travel company reconnaissance manger, I pride myself on finding off-the-track destinations which can be developed for future tourism. Miguel’s turning up could be just what I needed and, after all, I could check his credentials with the desk later.

“Well,” I said, “I might need a guide. How is it you speak English?”

I needed to check that his English went beyond ‘I speak good English’ if he were to be any use to me.

He said, “My mother English. I learn from her all my life. I take you interesting places. Not many people. Very quiet. I do not charge a lot. Twenty dollars a day only.”

It was obvious his English was not so good as he claimed but it was clear and adequate for what I needed.

“O.K.” I said. “It’s a deal. I’ll talk to the people on the hotel desk and, if they say it’s all right, you can meet me tomorrow morning in reception. About nine o’clock. I want to drive up the coast and have a look at the beaches. Have you got a map?”

Rather surprisingly, he said he had but, “You do not need map. I am your guide. I know everywhere.” A pause. And then, “We go to your room now?”

“No,” I said. “I don’t think that’s a good idea at all.”

“You do not like boys?”

“I like boys but only as friends.”

“Of course,” he said. “As friends. I am your friend so we go to your room.”

Now I am usually regarded by my colleagues as a fairly confident sort of individual. I have a reputation for negotiating good deals for my company and I am normally able to assert myself with business associates. Now, I was uncertain. I baulked at the idea of accusing this friendly fourteen year old of being a prostitute. I had never met a boy prostitute and I have to admit I was, for the first time in quite a while, right out of my depth. So I was still cautious.

“I still don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“Only 40 dollars.”

“What?”

“No need to worry. I take care. No-one see.”

That seemed to make matters crystal clear. It was also clear that I would need a different guide for my stay in San Pedro.

“I am sorry, Miguel. You are a nice boy. But I am definitely not inviting you to my room and, if that’s what you want, I think we had better not think any more about your being my guide. Off you go and find someone else.”

He grinned, “O.K. Not your room. But I will still be your guide.”

“No. I’m sorry. I may have been slow but I didn’t understand what was going on. The deal is off. I’ll have to find myself another guide.”

“There are no other guides. Only me.”

This was probably true, but “Well, that’s too bad. I am not going to hire you.”

“O.K. You change your mind, you ask for Miguel. Good bye.”

He smiled and walked away with all the dignity of a prime minister, leaving me feeling oddly disturbed and wondering whether I had, after all, altogether misread the situation. It was I who was feeling foolish, not, I was sure, the self confident Miguel.

The following morning, not wanting to run the risk of meeting him in reception, I was up early and, by half past eight, I was driving the hire car up the coast road towards the north. It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny and fresh in the way I hoped was typical and which would bring the tourists flocking to the hotel I was planning. I knew exactly what I wanted. A good beach facing west or north west to catch the evening sun, backed by about ten acres of reasonably level ground, lots of trees and rocks, a nice photogenic headland and not more than perhaps a half mile from the main road so a driveway could be brought in without too much expense.

I parked the car in the shade of a tree, locked it and part walked, part scrambled towards a point overlooking the breakers. Once there, somewhat hot and dishevelled, I sat on a rock to take in the possibilities. Apart from the sound of the sea and the drone of insects, it was very quiet so I was all the more startled to hear the voice.

“Hello.”

It was Miguel.

“You did not wait for me, so I followed.” He smiled cheerfully and disarmingly.

“No,” I said, shortly. “I told you I wasn’t going to hire you. If you speak English as well as you seem to, I am sure you understood.”

“I hope you change your mind. I am very good guide.”

“You said that before, but I don’t like the extras.”

“Extras? I not understand.”

“I think you understand very well. I do not take boys to my room. I do not take anyone to my room,” I emphasised.

“O.K. I see you tomorrow. You change your mind. I know.”

I was sorry for anyone who had to resort to making ‘friends’ with foreigners to earn money but I was getting angry.

“No. I mean it. I am not going to change my mind. And if you pester me, I shall have to complain to the hotel manager. Or the police,” I added threateningly.

He did not look in the least abashed by the threat – perhaps others had had to take the same line with him, “That all right. No problem. I like you. I see you tomorrow.”

And he turned and vanished almost as suddenly and as silently as he had arrived.

It was only after he had gone that I abruptly realised that he could not have followed me. We were at least twenty miles from the hotel and, unless he had wings, there was no way he could have followed me. In any case, it was still only nine o’clock, the time when I had originally arranged to meet him. I was puzzled and, perhaps, a bit uneasy but I had other things to think about and I soon put him out of my mind. He must surely see, if he was trying to get money, that I was not a good prospect and he would latch on to someone else.

The next day I went south. It was important not to miss any potential hotel sites although there seemed to be plenty. Local authorities all over the world have their own ideas for developments and I wanted to check out all the possibilities before approaching them. The beach here was perhaps too large for my purpose but I walked down to the water’s edge and looked out to sea. Again, the voice.

“Hello.”

I turned. He was soaking wet— and completely naked.

“What’s happened?” I could not help myself saying. “Are you all right? You’re wet”

“Yes. I go swimming. I borrow your towel?”

“I haven’t got a towel. How did you know I was here? The hotel is miles away.”

“I follow you. I will be your guide. Only twenty dollars. I know everywhere.”

“Look, I haven’t got a towel. I don’t want a guide. And, I am sorry, but even if I did, I wouldn’t want you – as a guide or anything else. And I don’t like being followed. Now, get dry in the sun and stop following me.”

I turned and started back for the car. After a moment, I looked round to make sure he wasn’t following but he had vanished. This was ridiculous. No, it wasn’t! It was frightening! The beach, as far as I could see in any direction, was completely deserted. He couldn’t have vanished just like that. But he had. Come to that, there was no way that he could have appeared like that in the first place – he certainly hadn’t hitched a ride in the boot which had been empty when I had locked it before setting out that morning, and there were no buses.

I found myself walking faster, almost running, to the car. I do not remember the journey back to San Pedro but, once there, a shower, the cool of my air conditioned room and a long drink in the bar persuaded me that my imagination had been running riot, fuelled, I suppose, by the unaccustomed heat. I knew he had been there, of course— but the rest? Perhaps I was a bit dehydrated.

The next day, however, I took extra care when I left the hotel and crossed the isthmus to a beach near Puerto Callisto on the opposite coast. I was at least sixty miles away and I was able to relax more. It was absurd, but the situation was beginning to alarm me. The local authorities are, very properly, beginning to take a more active role in combating the child sex industry and I had no wish to become involved, however innocently.

In one way, it was lucky I had been driven away from my original area of investigation because here was exactly what I had been looking for. Driven away? Yes. Dammit. I really felt that I had been driven away and the experience was very unpleasant. Anyway, the beach I had now found was located between two rocky headlands about a quarter of a mile apart. The sand was as golden as any brochure photographer could have invented. There were trees in abundance and, in short, everything was perfect. Moreover, there was no sign of my tormentor.

I took out my camera and started taking photographs. I am not an expert photographer and I knew my principals would need a full set of wide angle, normal angle and telephoto views if they were to get the full idea of the beach and its surroundings from my amateurish efforts. I had just selected and taken a long telephoto picture of the far headland when I realised that I was not alone. Standing on a rock at the end of the headland I had just that moment photographed was Miguel, stark naked as he had been yesterday. I watched as he dived in to the sea but he must have swum round to the other side of the rocks because I did not see him come to the surface. I was not certain that he had even seen me and I wasn’t going to hang around to make sure. I turned and made my way back to the car as quickly as possible. I was angry with myself. This was ridiculous. It couldn’t possibly have been Miguel. He was sixty miles away on the other side of the island. But it was certainly true that his persistence over the previous days was beginning to get to me.

I drove quickly back through the mountains to San Pedro. The road was narrow and winding and I was soon thinking more about a drink and a shower than about Miguel. Dusk was falling when I walked into reception to claim my room key and saw the policeman. He was talking to the receptionist who nodded in my direction. The policeman came over.

“Señor Paytairs?”

I was about to say, ‘No. My name is Peters’ when better sense prevailed and I admitted it.

“My name is Luis Gonzales. I am police inspector. I wish to talk to you.”

He showed me a warrant card and led me over to one side of the room. “Have you seen this person?”

Somehow, I knew without looking that it was Miguel.

“No.”

It was my first mistake.

“Please look more carefully. It is important.”

I pretended to study the picture and made my second mistake.

“No. I am sorry.”

He sighed. “I am sorry, too, Señor. I do not think you are telling me the truth. I think you spoke to him near the pool on Thursday. Miguel Lopez is well known here at San Pedro. His body was found to-day in the sea at Puerto Callisto. He had been murdered.” He paused. “Where have you been to-day?”

I could feel the sweat trickling down my face and onto my collar. I hoped it was the heat of the day but Inspector Gonzales looked very cool and he could not have known how hot I was. Frankly, I am not sure what I said to him. I had told him I didn’t recognise the boy in the photograph he had shown me. So, how was I to explain the picture of the naked Miguel that I was now sure was in my camera? Eventually, I must have told him something sensible. Certainly the conversation went on a long time. Presumably, I admitted where I had been because he took my camera away (being careful to give me a receipt). I took some comfort from the fact that he didn’t arrest me, simply contenting himself with telling me I would be required to stay at the hotel. I am not sure whether he had the authority to order me about in that way but I was not going to argue.

I went to my room but didn’t shower. Not at first. I was far too frightened. How could Miguel have got to Puerto Callisto before me? How could he have been murdered – there was no-one there but me. No-one there but me? Oh, my god, don’t think like that! How could the body have been discovered so quickly? How could Gonzales have got to the hotel in San Pedro before I did? How could he have known I was there – there was no-one there who could have identified me. In fact there was no-one there but Miguel. And me. Oh, my god!

I had my shower – as cold as I could manage – and felt a little better. But only for a moment. I kept breaking out into sweats. First hot, then cold. I remember my mother talking about ‘going hot and cold’ when I was a boy and, for the first time in my life, I understood what she had meant. And now I also knew what people meant by a ‘muck sweat’. I climbed reluctantly into bed. I saw the minute hand go round twice. And then twice again. At some point, I must have gone to sleep because the next thing I knew it was daylight and I could hear the early swimmers in the pool.

I had a shower. And, ten minutes later another. But it was no good. I told myself it was hot already. And, indeed, it was but that wasn’t my problem. Then, I had an idea. The English language paper was delivered at ten o’clock. Perhaps I would get some information from that.

I was in reception before the paper arrived, anxiously pacing backwards and forwards. The receptionist must have thought I was crackers and, perhaps, by then, I was.

It was all over the front page.

Yesterday, after a trial lasting six days, a jury had found a German visitor, Karl Friedrich Schmidt, guilty of the murder, six months ago, of Miguel Allesandro Lopez and he had been sentenced to fifteen years in prison. The conviction was a triumph for Inspector Luis Gonzales who had worked tirelessly on the case. It was the first time a westerner had been successfully extradited from a European country and then been been convicted. The bringing of Schmidt to justice was an important step in the nation’s fight against the evil of paedophilia in their country.

But the dramatic irony of the story, and the main focus of interest for the paper, was in what happened next. Immediately the verdict was announced in the morning, Inspector Gonzales had left the courtroom. He had walked to the main entrance of the building, waved to the reporters and started down the long flight of steps towards his car. Part way down, perhaps distracted by the insistent questioning, he had tripped on a broken step, fallen heavily and hit his head on the balustrade. He had been rushed to hospital but, despite the efforts of the doctors, he had died from a fractured skull a few hours later without regaining conciousness.

I left San Pedro by the lunch time airport shuttle. No-one tried to stop me. No-one stopped me at the airport. No-one tried to stop me from boarding the aircraft. But I couldn’t find the receipt from Gonzales. And I still don’t know where my camera is.

 
Word Count: 3144
 
 
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