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THE HIDDEN VALLEY MYSTERY

THE VICKI BARR AIR STEWARDESS SERIES


Silver Wings for Vicki
Vicki Finds the Answer
The Hidden Valley Mystery
The Secret of Magnolia Manor
The Clue of the Broken Blossom
Behind the White Veil
The Mystery at Hartwood House
Peril Over the Airport
The Mystery of the Vanishing Lady
The Search for the Missing Twin
The Ghost at the Waterfall
The Clue of the Gold Coin
The Silver Ring Mystery
The Clue of the Carved Ruby
The Mystery of Flight 908
The Brass Idol Mystery

THE VICKI BARR AIR STEWARDESS SERIES


________________________________________________________

THE HIDDEN
VALLEY MYSTERY
BY HELEN WELLS
________________________________________________________

GROSSET & DUNLAP


PUBLISHERS
New York

BY GROSSET & DUNLAP, INC., 1948


All Rights Reserved

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

CONTENTS
________________________________________________________

CHAPTER

PAGE

PASSPORT TO MEXICO

II

HOME BASE

18

III

CROSSING THE BORDER

42

IV

COUSIN CISSY

62

VICKI GETS TO WORK

84

VI

THE INDIAN VILLAGE

95

VII

NEW FRIENDS

111

VIII

WARNING

124

IX

IN DANGER

140

GROUNDS FOR SUSPICION

156

XI

THE WEB TIGHTENS

171

XII

ANTIGUA CASTLE

178

XIII

TWO MANTILLAS AND A LETTER

188

XIV

THE ROAD TO AYUTLA

207

XV

ESCAPE BY PLANE

214

XVI

THE DOUBLE-RABBIT

228

XVII

ADIS! GOOD-BYE!

240

CHAPTER I

Passport to Mexico

The Christmas tree in the Barrs living room at the


Castle was slightly the worse for wear. Even more
battered was the telegram which Vicki, curled up on
the gray velvet couch with the spaniel, opened and
read for the twentieth time:
A

LITTLE TARDY RUT HERES YOUR CHRISTMAS


PRESENT,
VICKI.
YOURE
GOING
TO
MEXICO.
CONGRATULATIONS!

The telegram was signed Ruth Benson,


assistant superintendent of flight stewardesses for
Federal Airlines, and Vickis boss. Whenever Vicki
read that message, her blue eyes grew softer and
bigger than ever.
A second telegram read:
START TAKING INOCULATIONS FOR FOREIGN TRAVEL
AND SEND BIRTH CERTIFICATE SO WE CAN GET YOUR
PASSPORT.

Vicki had complied. Her photograph was already


on file with the airline.
1

Vicki dreamily folded both telegrams and put


them back in the pocket of her new blue dress (a
Christmas present from her parents). The only
question was, when was she to leave for Mexico?
Miss Benson had told Vicki to go home, rest over
Christmas, and await instructions. Vicki was waiting
in a state of excitement; every ring of doorbell or
phone made her heart leap. She might leave any day,
any minute, now.
Vicki roused herself enough to break into three
pieces the last candy cane off the shedding
Christmas tree. She gave one piece to Freckles, the
whimpering little brown-and-white spaniel.
No, you cant have it all, she told him. Ginny
and I get a piece, too.
Freckless stubby tail thumped against the carpet
as he gnawed and battled his candy. Vickis heart
was thumping as happily, as she wandered around
the long living room, daydreaming. Being chosen to
go to Mexico, as a flight stewardess on Federals
affiliated airline down there, was a dream about to
come true!
Vicki went out to the small entrance hall, and
climbed the flight of tower stairs, leading to the
second floor and the bedrooms. Halfway up, she
stood beside a window looking out into dense trees.
This window was Vickis favorite spot for
daydreaming, and the tower which enclosed the
2

stairs was her favorite part of the Barr house.


Dreaming there, her sensitive little face framed by
soft ash-blonde hair, she seemed more like the lady
of the castle than a modern young career woman.
She knew it, uncomfortably.
Better start being practical. Better dig out my
Spanish dictionary.
Vicki turned and went downstairs again, passing
the hall mirror. The reflection of her figure, small
and frail-seeming, halted her. She stood up as
straight as possible, trying to look more capable,
bigger, older.
It doesnt help, remarked a candid voice. You
look as though you were cut out for a life of
bonbons and fancy embroidery, and hadnt the
strength or sense of a kitten.
Ginny! Vickis small face flushed. Please
show some respect for your elders!
Well, its true, thats how you look. Me, I know
youre not what you look, sweetie.
Her younger sister skipped the rest of the way
down the tower stairs. Ginny was a practical-looking
adolescent, with her flaxen hair in tight braids, her
sturdy bare legs ending in orthopedic Oxfords,
braces on her teeth, and temporary glasses. She
glared pleasantly at Vicki, who had recently lived
through this same chrysalis stage and emerged
healthy, wiry, and exceedingly pretty.
3

You know, Vic, I have to needle you when you


come home on your rest periods. Why, probly
youre so spoiled by your passengers, somebody has
to turn your head back in place again.
I am not spoiled by my passengers! A flight
stewardess works hard! Vicki retorted indignantly.
If you think being in charge of a planeful of
passengers is a glamour job
Mexico isnt glamour, huh? Ginny grinned
behind her glasses. but you wouldnt trade jobs
with anybody in the world, and besides youre so
excited about going to Mjico you cant talk straight.
Truce?
Vicki laughed, and put her arm around Ginnys
plump shoulders. The two sisters were on their way
to dismantle the Christmas treesomething they
had planned daily for the past three days, but hadnt
had the heart to dowhen Mrs. Barr called.
Victoria! Will you come here, please?
Yes, Mother! Vicki called back. Where are
you?
Here!
There was a pause. Vicki and Ginny exchanged
glances.
Family life, Ginny mumbled. Youll miss this
in Mexico. Ginny sang out, Wheres here?
In my room. Writing letters to Mexico, their
mothers voice drifted back.
4

Although only Vicki was summoned, Ginny


bounced along too, and the little spaniel came
running. They all trooped upstairs into the big
bedroom where Betty Barr sat at her desk. She was
curly-haired, athletic, and at the moment, scowling.
How much postage from Fairview, Illinois, to
Mexico City? she asked. Someone will have to
take this down to the post office and inquire.
Send Freckles, suggested Ginny. She and Vicki
sat down on the fragrant cedar chest, with the pup
sprawled across both their laps.
Mexico Vicki quavered. WhosI mean,
whomwhoms the letter to?
Mrs. Barr held up the envelope for her to see. To
Cousin Cissy. Im writing to ask her to chaperon
you while youre down there.
Vicki let out a shriek. Chaperon me! Why, Im a
career woman, Ill be working most of the time, how
can anyone chaperon I never heard of anything so
silly, she finished, crestfallen.
Ginny blinked indignantly. Who is this old
cousin, anyhow? Shell spoil all Vickis fun!
Their mother turned around in her chair so
emphatically that her short brown curls quivered.
Cissy isnt an old cousin, Betty Barr said.
Shes quite young
about forty, I spose, Vicki put in glumly.
and though Dad and I rarely see Cissy since
5

her marriage, their mother continued, she is the


only person we have in Mexico to keep an eye on
you. You dont remember her, Vic, because Cissys
family moved to California when you were about
three. Dad and I made a trip out there when you
were about twelve, but you went to camp that
summer. Ginny was a two-year-old; she went with
us but she cant remember Cissy, can you? Mrs.
Barr grinned. She fell to musing. We never were in
constant touch with that branch of the Barrsits
one of those families where you dont see each other
for years, but you can pick up ties as if youd seen
each other yesterday.
Anyhow, Mrs. Barr said firmly, Im asking
Cissy to chaperon you. Dont moan and groan so,
Vicki! In Latin-American countries, very
conservative manners are still the custom. Very few
girls earn their own livings. Manners are rather like
those of your grandmothers daychiefly because
those countries are still agricultural, while we have
become a manufacturing country, and thats changed
our way of living. Anyhow, Vicki, she concluded,
when in Rome, do as the Romans do. If you dont,
its a grave discourtesyand youll make a donkey
of yourself.
All right, all right, Vicki muttered. A
chaperon. How do you think this Cissy person will
like it?
6

Maybe she wouldnt touch you with a ten-foot


pole, Ginny suggested flatteringly.
Maybe well lose Cissys letter on the way to the
post office, Vicki said hopefully.
Oh, no, you dont! Mrs. Barr grinned. Now go
ask Dad if he has scared up any letters of
introduction to take with you.
They crossed the upstairs hall, knocked on a door
and poked their heads into Professor Barrs study. It
was empty, except for piles of books and mail.
Well try the kitchen, Ginny said. Dads
probably cooking again.
Amateur cookery was the hobby of Professor
Lewis Marvell Barr of the Economics Department at
the near-by state university. Vicki had been a
student there herself for two years, until she had
(with her fathers reluctant and her mothers
enthusiastic permission) started out on her career in
the sky.
Professor Barr, tall, blond, and handsome, and
made still taller by a starchy chefs cap, was found
peering solemnly into the oven.
Ssh! Walk on tiptoe! he admonished his two
daughters. I am baking my first cakeand if
anyone refuses a slice, I shall be deeply wounded.
I get to lick the icing bowl, Ginny announced.
Professor Barr looked embarrassed. I havent
learned yet how to make icing, he admitted.
7

Good, Vicki said quickly. Then we can put


chocolate syrup over the cake, instead.
Her father smiled. My little diplomat, hey?
Shes a pirate, thats what she is! Ginny burst
out. Next, shell suggest ice cream to go with the
chocolate syrup.
I was leading up to that, Vicki admitted.
Ice-cream cake. Of course. Why didnt I think of
that? Professor Barr dug under his long white apron
and handed the girls some change. If you dont
mind going downtown to buy ice cream, he said
dryly. You may take the car.
They assured their father that they considered
such an errand eminently worth while, and inquired
about the Mexican letters of introduction.
Oh, yes. I have three letters for you to present,
Vic, to friends of friends of mine. Two are to
Mexican people, one is to a Chicagoan living there.
Those letters will assure you of hospitality and
friends, until you can make some friends of your
own, as well. Of course were writing those three
people on your behalf, before you arrive.
Nice, Vicki said. I wont be going as a
complete stranger, then. Just think, friends in other
countries. But, you knowshe cocked her fair
headexcited as I am, waiting for Ruth Benson to
give me the go-ahead, and with these letters and
packing and allit still doesnt feel as if Im going
8

away.
Youre going to leave the United States, Ginny
said soberly.
If youd rather not go, her father said promptly,
you can always return to the university. You didnt
finish
Have to mail Cissys letter now, Dadscuse
us, please.
Vicki frankly fled. She had had a hard enough
time originally to get Professor Barrs permission to
become a flight stewardess. Some hair-raising
adventures had not increased his approval. Ginny,
who had her own battle at school, stanchly fled with
her. They seized hats, coats and overshoes, struggled
into them, shoved Freckles into his leash and
sweater, and raced each other out on the frozen
lawn.
Wait a minute! Vicki panted. Ginny, headed
toward the garage, stopped. Lets see if the
Christmas rose is still there.
They found the single perfect rose still abloom in
the snow. Only this, and the dwarf fir trees banking
The Castle, were green. Beneath the snow slept the
rock garden and the rose-and-peony garden, the fruit
trees and the little wood which led downhill to the
lake. Vicki looked around and tried to realize she
was leaving these dear things for a while. The
Castle, with its miniature tower, and this frosty
9

white garden, made the hot lands south of the border


seem hard to believe in, and very far away.
For a moment Vicki choked up. Im homesick in
advance, she giggled at herself. Yet she felt forlorn.
Ginny seemed to sense what Vicki was feeling,
and let her alone. But at last the little girl grew tired
of waiting.
Are you through daydreaming?
Yes. Sorry. But its an odd sensation, Ginny, to
be leaving home for a place so new and strange. If I
were leaving The Castle to go back to New York
and my crowd of stewardesses and our New York
apartment
Vickis blue eyes sparkled as she thought of the
frolics, tiffs, parties, and gay hubbub that went on in
that apartment. Six girls, and Mrs. Duff their
housekeeper, with sometimes Dean Fletcher the
young copilot, or newspaperman Pete Carmody, or
The Three Bears dropping in to danceand then
suddenly the phone would summon them and the
girls would be off on flights. What a life it was!
Mexico, or no Mexico, Im going to miss my
New York crowd, Vicki confided to Ginny. She
backed the car out of the garage into the curving
driveway, then stopped to let Freckles and Ginny
hop in.
Maybe some of your crowd will be sent to
Mexico, too, Ginny consoled her. Maybe this
10

Cissy person wont turn out to be so bad. Or youll


find a mysteryyou always do. Maybeoops,
watch where youre going!
Vicki dismissed her daydreams long enough to
drive safely downtown. At the Fairview post office,
she handed the postmaster the letter addressed to
Mexico City. With some misgivings she stamped it,
then watched it go into the mailbag marked Foreign
Air Mail. In a matter of days or hours, she herself
would be flying to where that letter was addressed.
And Vicki felt torn between love of home, right here
in Fairview, and the thrill of exploring Mexico.
That feeling was intensified by a visit to the
candy shop, for the ice cream. Vickis old high
school crowd was there, lingering over cokes and
listening to the juke box.
Hi, Vicki! Tootsie Miller hailed her. She was
fat and jolly. Is it the truth youre going to leave the
good old U.S.A.?
Handsome Dickie Brown and his pleasant sister,
Lynn, came over too. Hi, Vic. Guess youre the
first of our class to go abroad.
It isnt really abroad, Vicki said, her heart
sinking as if she were off to Siberia. Its still the
Western Hemisphereand a neighboring country
and, uh
Freckles! Ginny protested.
The little spaniel was challenging Guy Englishs
11

setter pup. Freckles barked, reared and glared


fearlessly. Guy had the setter on a leash. Guy
grinned and said: Call off your ferocious dog,
maam. Have a coke, Vic, Ginny?
The two Kramer boys came into the candy shop,
too, and Vicki found herself holding court as a
world traveler. When she protested that she had not
traveled much yet, Lynn Brown countered:
But you will. Youll go all over the world,
eventually, Ill bet!
Besides, Vic, you drew flying and thats the
most exciting job of all.
Dont forget us gringos when youre in
Mexico.
Ill never forget you kids, Vicki said in a warm
rush of feeling. That premature homesickness welled
up in her throat. Driving home with Ginny and
Freckles, she nearly considered calling the whole
thing off.
But at home a telegram had just arrived for Miss
Victoria Barr.
REPORT NEW YORK TOMORROW. FREE FLIGHT ON ANY
FEDERAL PLANE OUT OF CHICAGO THAT HAS ROOM FOR
YOU. HAVE SECURED YOUR MEXICAN PASSPORT AND
BUSINESS TRAVELERS PERMIT. REGARDS, RUTH BENSON.

Vicki clutched her blonde head to keep it from


whirling. Leave tomorrowthat meant finish
packing tonight. The Castle, even her family,
suddenly lost their look of permanence for Vicki.
12

Racing up to the blue room, which she shared with


Ginny, she hastily began folding garments into her
lightweight suitcase.
Shoes, plenty of em for sight-seeing Suntan
lotion and my bathing suit The bathing suit,
since this was Christmas week, had to be unearthed
from the storage closet. Camera and films, or will
the customs agents at the border say no? Oh, yes,
my Spanish-English dictionary. Thank goodness,
its pocket size. Hmm, American tooth powder
might be a good idea. And sunglasses! What else?
Vicki suspected she was packing entirely too
many garments and gadgets. Inexperienced travelers
usually did. Ruth Benson declared that a suit, two
blouses, two hats, one dress, one coat, plus plenty of
shoes and stockings and gloves and underthings,
would take anybody quite decently around the
world.
Besides, I have my flight uniform, waiting for
me at the apartment in New York! Vicki thought
with shining eyes of the trim blue cap and uniform,
and the proud silver wings pinned on its breast
pocket. But its warm in Mexico, even in winter.
Ruth Benson said that the airline will want me to
wear summer uniform.
Mrs. Barr came to the door of the blue bedroom
and gave Vicki two brightly wrapped packages.
Gifts for Cousin Cissy. Some new books and
13

American stockings. I hope they fit her, at least


approximately. You might buy her some candy in
New York, too, Vicki.
Doggone this Cissy person, Vicki said half
seriously. The fly in the ointment. Off to the land
of romanceshackled by a relative.
I understand Cissy has a very pleasant husband.
Betty Barr grinned and moved off. That makes two
flies in the ointment.
Ginny trotted in, Freckles at her heels, bearing a
remedy for upset stomach.
Thats a cheerful note! Vicki protested.
Ginny doggedly tucked the remedy in Vickis
suitcase. Dad says, quote, foreign cooking can be
quite a surprise to American stomachs. Oh, Vicki, I
squirtenly wish I was going with you! Even if we
had stomachaches together!
I squirtenly wish you were, too, baby.
The two sisters hugged each other. Freckles took
advantage of the moment to climb into the open
suitcase and start digging up Vickis neat packing.
It was not until late that evening, after dinner was
over and her family had given her advice and
admonishments, and all her phone calls to Fairview
friends had been made, and all but the very last
packing was done, that Vicki began to think
seriously. Until now, Mexico had been a bright-hued
dream, a lighthearted, unreal lark. But with
14

departure slated for tomorrow morning, Vicki


realized that the thought of leaving the United States
brought a surprisingly painful wrench.
Well, I hope the Mexicans will like me, she
mused half aloud, itll be part of my job to make
them like me.
Huh? inquired Ginny from the other twin bed.
What are you mumbling about?
I was just wondering, Vicki said softly, how
Im going to reconcile When in Rome, do as the
Romans do with To thine own self be true.
Foreign travel can be a problem!
Why dont you just go to sleep?
Vicki did. But the widening puzzles in her mind
were not solved.
Early the next morning the whole Barr household
rose and, in an uproar, got their traveler off.
You didnt touch your breakfast, her mother
fumed, rushing into the living room. Here, at least
swallow this glass of milk!
Vicki obediently gulped the milk, and with her
other hand she buckled her overshoes. Ginny was
kneeling on the lid of the stuffed suitcase, while
Professor Barr locked and strapped it shut. Freckles
raced around in circles, delightedly believing he was
going along on this trip, too.
Dont get too sunburned, Mrs. Barr warned.
You know your hair always dries out to the color of
15

straw.
If you get any free samples of anything, Ginny
begged, send em to me for my collection. And
please buy me some Mexican silver jewelry and a
pair of huaraches and one of those ruffly blouses and
a parrot if you can find a tame one and
Vic isnt going on a vacation, shes going to
work, Professor Barr reminded Ginny. We
mustnt ask her to spend her free time doing errands
for us. Although, Vicki, youll see some interesting
books and magazines down there, and Id
appreciate
Absolutely. Vicki grinned. Mother, you
havent said what you want.
Betty Barr, getting into her hat and coat, replied,
I only want you to take care of yourself and use
good judgment in all things. And write us often,
dear, so we wont worry.
Vicki promised, and the entire family went out to
the car. Professor Barr drove to the railroad station
amid a babel of last-minute reminders.
And dont dislike Cousin Cissy in advance!
As they stood in the wind on the wooden
platform, hearing the train whistle shrill nearer and
closer along the flat prairie land, Vicki shrank into
her heavy coat. From this small town in the snow to
a land of purple volcanoesshe only hoped she
could jump that gap with her understanding as well
16

as with her two feet and her suitcase!


The train, furiously snorting and puffing, as if
pretending to be more than a small engine, a milk
car, and two rattle-bang coaches, slowed to a stop.
The ancient conductor, Mr. Stark, swung Vicki
aboard.
She hung down off the train step to kiss her
family last good-byes. I willdont worry, now
you write me, toobye, Freckles!
The train jerked and pulled away. Vicki went into
the coach and dazedly sat down on a dusty seat. She
was not crying but her nose was suspiciously pink.
As the small town and then the farms slid by her
window, they seemed gradually, confusingly, to turn
into tropic beaches and groves of palm trees.
At the Chicago airport two hours later, Vicki was
in luck. She caught a New York-bound plane
without delay. The crowded, busy field, the
gleaming planes, travelers leaving and arriving, set
Vicki atingle.
She climbed aboard and relaxed against her
comfortable plane chair. She was on her way, not
only to New York, but to a new land.

17

CHAPTER II

Home Base

Vicki would have thoroughly enjoyed her flight had


not the stewardessMarion Delbeau, whom Vicki
knew slightlybrought her a newspaper.
Unsuspecting, Vicki let it lie in her lap for a
while, as she gazed out at the sky scenery beyond
the planes wing. Then she turned and looked
professionally at the various passengers, watching
the way Marion handled the dubious woman who
was a first rider. Then she opened the newspaper
and glanced casually at the headlines.
Vicki did not remain casual for long. Her face
changed as the headline glared up balefully at her:
MEXICAN DOCTORS EXPERIMENT
SEEK TREATMENT FOR TROPICAL SCOURGE
The story was marked AP: an Associated Press
release. That meant practically every newspaper in
the country was carrying the story today. That meant
18

Professor Barr would see it!


Vicki was a great deal less concerned about
tropical diseases than about her fathers reaction. He
had recently been working on a scholarly article on
the relation between economics and disease, and
was much concerned, at present, with public health
matters. This dire-sounding headline might give him
the impression I hat public health was bad in
Mexico.
Dads never really approved of my flyinghe
wasnt eager for me to go awayhes been hinting
to get me back to college. And now this!
Vicki hunched up in her seat. Being too young
might wreck her plans. As the youngest stewardess
on Federal Airlines, she had been accepted under the
age limit. Keeping her job depended on her parents
permission. If her father read this news item, he
would begin to worry.
Hell think it just isnt safe for me to go.
Vicki tried to bolster herself with hope of support
from her mother. Betty Barr had been for Vickis
flying from the first. If necessary, she would put up
a plea now.
Besides, the news story itself was not very dire,
as Vicki read it through. It reported that Mexican
doctors were working to find better ways of treating
amoebic dysentery. They had been working, too, on
several of the different scourges which afflict people
19

in tropical lands, and felt sure they were well on the


way to finding methods to combat some, but not all
of them.
Amoebic dysentery . . . sure they are making
progress . . . hmm, that doesnt sound too alarming.
Still, Vicki felt mildly apprehensive. When Marion
Delbeau brought her a tempting tray of lunchthe
sort Vicki herself so often prepared and served to
passengersVicki dropped the newspaper on the
plane floor and planted her feet on it.
Stop worrying! she told herself.
But she was still worrying as the skyscrapers of
New York lifted in steep, jagged outline against the
sky. Her plane flew over the city, skimmed on to
Long Island. They circled over the airport, and came
down softly as a feather.
Vicki clambered out of the plane. New York was
home base for her flights, and the airport buildings
she hurried toward were her official headquarters.
Ruth Benson was just coming out of her office, a
sleek, stunning young woman.
Vicki Barr! Hello! I was expecting you about
now. Youre just in time to have lunch with me.
Vicki smiled back at her adored boss. Ive had
lunch on the plane, thanks, but Id like to come
along with you.
Ill give you my dessert and well talk about
Mexico. They started out of the small building and
20

across the windy airfield. By the way, Vicki, Ive


just had the oddest telegram from your father.
Vicki gulped. What did he say?
He wired Has Federal any statistics on the
incidence of amoebic disorders and parasites among
its employees who have worked in Mexico? Isnt
that a weird idea! Miss Benson laughed.
Vicki could not laugh with her. She explained
that the professor was doing research on health
matters. She did not mention what else was probably
going on in her fathers head. She asked anxiously,
Did you wire back?
Yes, of course. I thought his request odd, but
supposed your father must be thinking of that news
item. And I realized professors often ask for
research information.
They dodged a truck dragging an airliner to the
hangar. Vicki was seething with apprehension but
tried to appear calm.
Wh-what did you wire back, Miss Benson?
Miss Benson shouted something over the sudden
roar of a plane overhead but it was lost in the noise.
What? Vicki wailed as the plane vanished,
leaving windy stillness. Oh, please!
Why, Vicki. I wired back that Federal has no
such statistics. I hope your father will be able to get
his information elsewhere.
Im sure he will, Vicki replied miserably as
21

they went into the big and beautiful Administration


Building. It was awful. Professor Barr had an idea
fixed in his mind now, and the professor with an
idea was like Freckles worrying a bone. He did not
give it up until he had exhausted every possibility.
Vicki knew what she was in for.
Miss Benson led the way into the coffee shop.
She was happily oblivious of Vickis misery, and
waved to a group of young pilots. Vicki exchanged
hellos with boys and girls in uniform and in overalls,
all across the big airy room. It felt good to be back
among these youthful, lively comrades. In her
pocket, Vicki crossed her fingers.
Ruth Benson found a vacant table beside the
wall-length window and they sat down.
Ill have one of your jumbo hamburgers, Miss
Benson said to the waitress. Vicki? Nothing?
Something must be wrong with you.
Vicki dared not answer. If the airline believed
Vickis father objected to her going to Mexico, they
might schedule another girl in her place at once.
Vicki kept a poker face and wished Ruth Benson
would stop studying her so suspiciously.
Well, youre flying down on New Years Day,
day after tomorrow. Get out your summer
uniformsthe ones of Palm Beach cloth. Go to the
beauty salon.
She reeled off instructions, and Vicki listened
22

torn between exultation and quaking. Had Ruth


Benson, when she was a flight stewardess and
before she had worked her way up to this executive
post, ever been in a jam like this? Vicki looked into
Miss Bensons brilliant, intelligent gray eyes and
wished she could blurt out the truth.
because not only will you be Federals envoy.
Youll represent the United States to every Mexican
who lays eyes on you.
Vicki gave in to her desire to believe Mexico
would come true for her. Thats quite a
responsibility, she replied, meaning it.
Ah, here comes my hamburger! Here, before I
forget Ruth Benson took a small, fat book from
her purse. A present for you from the airline. Its an
almanac about Latin America, tells about the
history, economics, customs. Read it so youll
understand what youre seeing. Its just a waste of
time, its stupid, to travel without reading up first.
Vicki thanked her and tentatively took the
volume, hoping she would not have to surrender it.
Miss Benson called hello to teams of mechanics
and researchers, took a bite of her lunch, and went
on coaching her squirming stewardess.
Dont squawk or make fun if the coffee doesnt
taste like the coffee back home. It isnt meant to. For
goodness sake, dont wear slacks in Mexico,
Mexican girls dont wear them. Dont spend like a
23

show-off. Speak their language, not yours.


Incidentally, Vicki, its rude down there to say
youre an American. Youre a North American.
Remember, the South and Central Americans are
Americans too. The point is to be friends.
Vicki blinked her blue eyes, trying to absorb all
this, and keep the longing out of her poker face at
the same time.
Some North Americans have gone to other
countries, Ruth Benson continued, and have been
intolerant or boastful or greedy or bad-mannered,
and left an unfortunate impression of us all. Vicki,
international good willwhat we nationalities think
of one anothercan tip the scales between peace or
war! We just have to understand and get along with
one another.
I see. Vicki was thoughtful. Her personal
worries suddenly grew small beside this universal
human problem. So she, just one person, must stand
trial for the entire United States, in the minds of the
Mexicans who might meet her.
In fact, Miss Benson explained, were sending
down your North American flight crew as a means
of getting better acquainted. Federal employs
Mexican pilots and stewardesses on our affiliated
Mexican line, as is only fair. And theyre grand.
You and your crew, she twinkled at Vicki, will be
a novelty.
24

Oh! A great light burst on Vicki. She even


glimpsed a hope of convincing her father. You
mean Federal is sending not only me, but a pilot and
copilot as well? I thoughtyou had said you were
looking for one or two stewardesses to send to
Mexico and I assumedI thought
Miss Benson smiled. You didnt stop to think.
Then Im supposed to be going withI mean, I
will be going with a pilot and copilot. Oh, Miss
Benson, which ones?
Ruth Benson looked amused. Captain Tom
Jordan and Copilot Dean Fletcher. Do you
approve?
Vicki sighed deeply and rested her chin in her
hand. It couldnt be nicer.
Then why so woebegone about it?
Vicki had groaned at what she might be missing.
But quickly she assumed a bright smile. Its
perfect, Miss Benson. Dean Fletcher and I are very
good friends. And as for Captain Jordan, hes my
favorite of all the older pilots Ive flown with. My
father would approve.
She could almost see before her Deans tall rangy
figure and his serious fliers eyescould almost
sense Captain Jordans capable, big-brother
presence. These three had worked together so often,
they had become very like a family. If she got left
behind, because her father said no, she would feel
25

exactly like an orphan.


Couldnt be nicer, Vicki was ironically
repeating, as she and Ruth Benson crossed the busy
airfield back to the offices. Miss Benson wanted her
to see Federals Pan-American supervisor, Mr.
Robles. He had tested the stewardesses in Spanish.
Now this amiable, dark-eyed man talked to Vicki
of Latin courtesies, flying red bananas and
flamingos as cargo, the different constellations of
stars south of the border by which to locate
direction. She listened, eagerly and painfully.
Vicki rode the subway back from Long Island to
Manhattan in a daze. So much tantalizing adviceit
doubled her desire to go! She dreaded arriving at the
apartment because almost surely a telegram from her
father would be waiting for her.
Vicki climbed up out of the subway. For once she
did not exult at being back in New York. She rushed
down the beautiful, long, busy streets and past
stately Central Park etched in snow and ice. She
raced into her apartment building and into the
elevator.
Since stewardesses slept at any hours they were
not flying, Vicki did not ring but let herself in with
her key. Halfway down the hall, she paused at the
kitchen. Their housekeeper, Mrs. Duff, roly-poly,
white-haired, and pink-cheeked, was beating eggs in
a bowl with all her might.
26

Hello, Mrs. Duff. How are you? Is there a


telegram for me? Vicki asked all in one breath.
Vicki! Ye gave me a turn! So yere back, child,
an looking rosy as an apple.
Not back for long, though, Mrs. Duffone way
or another. Hows everyone? Is there a telegram for
me?
My girls are flourishing, thanks be. I have a heap
o messages for yemostly Christmas wishes from
your passengers. That Mr. Dean Fletcher has
telephoned and telephoned. He seems a mite happy
about some matter. Ah, yes, there is a wire for you.
Twas delivered early this morning.
Vicki nodded dolefully and marched off. At the
living-room door, she saw the top of a fair head
above the easy chair. It belonged to Charmion
Wilson, the young widow. Jean Cox sat cross-legged
on the floor, a tomboy with cropped brown head and
merry face. She was sorting newspaper clippings, so
absorbed that Vicki did not have the heart to
interrupt.
This one says by Peter Carmody. And this one
has a by-line by Peter Carmody, special feature
writer. You know, Charmion, I think Petes pretty
terrific!
So I see, Charmion gently teased.
Vicki called out, Glad to hear the Cox-Carmody
romance is progressing so favorably.
27

Vicki! Both Charmion and Jean sprang to their


feet. You wretch! Back from Fairviewthis means
youre leaving for Mexico pronto!
Oh, does it? Vicki said gloomily. Hello, you
two.
Arent you glad to see us? Jean demanded.
Were glad to see you.
Charmion smilingly drew her into the room.
You look fine, dear. But why such a long face?
Wheres that telegram? Oh, I see iton the
bulletin board. Vicki took it and stammered out,
Forgive me for being abrupt. Did you read about
the Mexican research on tropical diseases? Well, my
dad has already wired Ruth Benson about it. She
ripped open the telegram and read it unbelievingly.
Just look at this.
The telegram said: HAVE YOU TAKEN ALL
NECESSARY INOCULATIONS? PLEASE CHECK WITH A
SPECIALIST TO MAKE SURE YOUR HEALTH IS THOROUGHLY
GUARDED. AM WIRING COUSIN CISSY. MAY TELEPHONE

And it was signed, not Dad but


Father, a bad sign.
Vicki said apprehensively, What on earth is he
wiring Cissy about?
Jean grunted. This sounds like trouble.
Whos Cousin Cissy? Charmion inquired. She
linked arms with the other two and led them to the
couch. Perhaps we can think of a way around this.
Three heads are better than one.
YOU LATER.

28

Vicki, squeezed on the couch between her pals,


related the lugubrious details. She had not wanted to
be involved with Cousin Cissy in the first place, and
now this unknown relatives reply to Professor Barr
could decide Vickis whole fate.
Whats Cissy like? Charmion ruminated. If we
knew that, wed know how to figure.
Vicki shrugged. Cissy is an unknown quantity.
She grasped a handful of ash-blonde hair
despairingly.
Jean got up and paced the living room. Never
mind Cissy! Its your dads opinion that counts.
Vicki grinned wanly. If I dont go, Jean, then
youd get to go. You and I made the two highest
marks on the Spanish exam.
I dont want to go to Mexico in your shoes!
Jean exploded. Anyhow, Federal may send a
second team and they promised Id be the
stewardess. Oh, Vic, I was figuring what fun wed
have together, down there
Vicki turned to Charmion. Will you please study
Spanish, too? Now wait a minute, Jean. Im not
giving up without a fight.
Charmion nodded. Your father isnt an ogre,
after all. He isnt objecting simply to make you
unhappy. Hes worried about your welfare and, I
must admit, with some degree of reason. Now, if
you think it out calmly, Vicki, Im sure you can
29

convince him.
Unless Cissy Vicki started and then shook
her head at Charmion. All right, Ill calm down and
wait for Dad and Cissys next move. How are Celia
and Dot and Tessa?
The other three tenants of the apartment were out
on flights today. Charmion reported that they hoped
to be back for New Years Eve and its crop of
parties. Vicki wondered where she would be on New
Years Day.
In the middle of the afternoon, a long-distance
telephone call came through for Vicki. It was her
father.
Hello? Vicki? Listen closely! Early this
morning, right after you boarded the train, I saw a
most alarming news item about
about Mexican medical research. Yes, Dad.
I at once wired Miss Benson
Yes, she told me.
And I also wired Cousin Cissy. I now have her
reply. Vicki heard her fathers voice grow puzzled.
Cissy wired back: Yes, we always have amoeba
down here. Be sure Vicki is inoculated.
There was an ominous pause.
Vicki, I will not have you going into the midst of
a possible epidemic.
But there is no epidemic down there! Vicki
cried into the telephone.
30

Ha! Cissys wire doesnt deny it. It just hasnt


appeared in our news items yet. I was talking to Dr.
Snyder
Dad, no! I talked to Mr. Robles this morning and
he surely would have said Dad, that wire of
Cissys just isnt clearits just misleading you
After all, up North here we always have cold
germs, she pleaded.
Vicki, her father said very firmly over the
phone, will you consider with the utmost care
whether you want to run the risk of going to Mexico
at this time? Lets check up on this situation before
you decide.
Vicki was somewhat shaken by her fathers
serious tone. Though she wanted so badly to see
Mexico, she did promise her father to think it over
carefully, and not to leave New York until they had
talked it over again.
Ill be in constant touch with you. Professor
Barr hung up.
Vicki dejectedly hung up, too, and pushed back
her ash-blonde hair. Turning, she found Charmion
and Jean hovering behind her with horror-struck
faces.
We heard, they said mournfully.
Vicki told them what they had not heard. Cissy
wired be sure to get inoculated. I think that is what
alarmed my dad.
31

Vicki sadly pointed out that she had started taking


inoculations in Illinois, planning to complete them
here. Professor Barr, in one of his absent-minded
moods, had paid no attention.
Why, inoculations are merely routine for
travelers! Charmion exclaimed. Just a routine
precaution against change of climate and water and
food. An inoculation means nothing!
Your dad doesnt really think, Jean asked
incredulously, that inoculations mean epidemic?
Vicki held her head. Course not. Dad is a very
thorough thinker, thats all. Hes asking a million
questions in case there might be a hint of a suspicion
of a trace of an epidemic. She stared forlornly at his
telegram, lying on the table.
The three girls sighed in unison. Go get yourself
the final inoculation, Vicki, groaned Charmion.
Tomorrow, first thing, Vicki muttered. That
Cissy is a dangerous woman. Ouch, what a day!
The three girls sat in deep gloom. After a long
silence, Jean suggested:
Hows about your wiring Cissy?
What, and practically invite her to plant another
dangerous idea in my fathers head? No, thank you!
Charmion had a suggestion. Dont just sit and
wait. Dig up all the facts and confront your dad with
them.
The voice of wisdom! Vicki cried. She
32

immediately picked up this mornings newspaper


and read it again, carefully, slowly, the story of the
medical fight. Until now, she had been too troubled
to digest it thoroughly. She read it aloud to Jean and
Charmion.
That doesnt sound too alarming, Charmion
consoled. Point out to your father that
Jean said proudly, Why dont you call up Pete
Carmody, since hes a newspaperman, and ask
him?
Pete could not be located at his newspaper office.
But Vicki learned from the science editor that, to his
knowledge, there was no epidemic in Mexico. The
story in this mornings papers had to do with an
ever-recurrent problem in the tropics. Had there
been an epidemic, menacing the health of travelers
from the United States, the public health authorities
would long ago have announced it and issued
instructions to travelers. Vicki thanked the science
editor of the newspaper and hung up, feeling better.
A good talking point, Jean encouraged.
Now Ill call up Mr. Robles.
He was just leaving his office, and in a hurry. He
laughed at Vickis question about any tropical
epidemic. You North Americans have a comic
opera notion of Mexico. No, no, Miss Barr. If there
were any danger, Federal wouldnt send your flight
crew down. You know that.
33

The three girls debated how Professor Barr would


evaluate Mr. Robless statement. Vicki was still
worried. She felt the professor would demand some
genuinely official pronouncement.
Try the Mexican consulate.
Again Vicki picked up the telephone and was
connected with accented voices. She was shuttled
through to some man in authority.
Wat? Well, you can read in the papers is not
serious, is nothing new, and are making good
progress. Epidemic? No, absolutely no. Who told
you that bad story?
Vicki described the special inoculations she had
taken and would take, and inquired if the consulate
recommended any others. The reply was that she
was getting the only ones they knew about. As for
parasites, the man on the telephone suggested that
Vicki avoid eating raw vegetables and drink only
boiled water.
Vicki thanked him and hung up. With Jean and
Charmions help, she composed a telegram relaying
all this information to her father. She sent it off via
the telephone, with a sigh of relief.
They sat down to dinner in the windows
overlooking Central Park. Vicki cheered up a little,
with the aid of Mrs. Duffs good cooking and
Charmions encouragement. Then doll-faced little
Celia Trimble came hurrying in, home from a flight,
34

hungry, and burbling with enthusiasm.


Popovers! Mrs. Duff, I declare! And Vickis
home! Hello, Vic! I had the most darlin babies ever
on todays flighttwo sets of twins, and nobody
over eighteen months oldCelia stuffed a popover
in her mouth and pulled off her flight capexcept
the babies mothers, I mean.
The others smiled and made room for her at the
table. The little southern girl prattled on about
formulas and baby hammocks, part of her Babies
Plane equipment. Suddenly she caught the glum
mood.
Whats wrong? Her eyes grew round.
Somebodys in trouble. Who?
Me, said Vicki. She related how Professor Barr
and Cousin Cissy, between them, threatened to
thwart her assignment to Mexico.
Thats the meanest piece of luck I ever heard
of! Celia said.
What is? called two more girls voices from the
hall.
Dot Crowley strode in. A reddish-haired, squarejawed, aggressive young woman, Vicki felt
suddenly relieved to see her. Dot would think of
something! Behind her came Tessa, dark and
dramatic, entering the living room with the studied
dash of an actress. Tessa forgot to act when she
glimpsed Vickis miserable face.
35

There was a flurry of greetings. Dot and Tessa


squeezed in at the dinner table. Vickis predicament
was hastily explained to them.
Redheaded Dot Crowley bridled. This calls for
action! A warlike gleam shot from her eyes. For
once you wont laugh at me for acting like a Big
Executivelisten to this for a plan of action! Dotty
outlined a skillful counterattack against Professor
Barr.
Yes! Yes! The six flight stewardesses spent
several minutes figuring out details. Dot thought up
what she called a plan of organization.
But will he do it?
Hed bettertheyd all betteror Vicki doesnt
fly to Mexico!
It will take all day tomorrow, Vic, Dot summed
up.
I hope your plan works, Vicki wailed. Because
tomorrows my last day before the Mexican takeoffmy last chance!
Next morning the six girls went to work on the
plan. Celia and Tessa mumbled about tonight being
New Years Eve, but everyone abandoned primping
to come to Vickis rescue. She was touched at their
loyalty and sufficiently heartened to go to the beauty
salon, as per Miss Bensons instructions. While
Vicki was there, and later getting a final inoculation,
her flying mates did some telephoning around town
36

and some persuasive talking. They also sent a


telegram to Mrs. Barr with a plea for her help.
Vicki returned to the apartment around noon. No
further word had been received from Professor Barr,
one way or the other. Mrs. Duff stopped Vicki at the
door.
Well, the girls have rounded em up. Ive
concocted a grand buffet lunch to put em in a good
mood. But, heavens to Betsy, what a phone bill we
shall have!
Thank you, Mrs. Duff, Vicki whispered, and
squeezed the housekeepers plump hand. If all you
people dont get me to Mexico, not even a band of
angels could.
Waiting in the living room, a bit mystified but
pleased at being asked to this impromptu luncheon
party, were four people from Federal Airlines. Ruth
Benson was there, even more handsome than usual
in her new Christmas suit. Mr. Robles had
courteously made a long trip into town, when told
that this was an emergency. The third was Captain
Tom Jordan, pilot, a big comfortable man of about
forty.
Is this a bon voyage party for the Mexico team?
Captain Jordan boomed. Hel-lo, Vicki! All ready to
leave?
Vicki grinned weakly at her pilot and mumbled.
She turned to the fourth guest, the copilot and her
37

special friend, Dean Fletcher. Dean, never very


happy at parties, had doubled up his lean length into
a chair and was discussing plane engines with Jean
Cox.
He stood up to say hello to Vicki and beam at her.
Hi, Vic. Tomorrow at this time well be on our
way. All set?
Vicki looked up into Deans clear, serious gray
eyesfliers eyesand swallowed hard. Uh
tomorrow at this timeyes.
The doorbell rang. Mrs. Duff ushered in the last
guest, newspaperman Peter Carmody. He rushed in,
gay and cocky, battered felt hat perched on the back
of his head.
Whats up? Hello, everybody! Say, I smell
something special going on!
If youll all have some lunch, Charmion invited
them to the laden buffet table, Dot Crowley will
explain.
But first Dot, as per plan, gave the guests time to
enjoy Mrs. Duffs good food. Except that the six
hostesses wore a distracted look, and Vicki kept
consulting her wrist watch, it was a very pleasant
little party. Then, when Vicki thought she could
stand waiting no longer, Dot importantly explained.
so because of the professors cautious,
thorough, painstaking approach, and because of
Cousin Cissys ambiguous replies, Vicki may not
38

well, her father may not let her go to Mexico.


What! Ruth Benson was aghast. Vicki, why
didnt you tell me? Ill have to get someone else at
once
But you have only half a day, Miss Benson,
Dean put in a quick argument.
Captain Jordan and Mr. Robles both were looking
sorry. The pilot asked if there was not something to
be done, even at this late stage.
Vicki shakily spoke up. Yes, there is. My father
can be reached at the other end of this telephone
Im sure my mother has cooperated and kept him at
home at this hour. Would it be too much to ask if
you would wouldwould
They all laughed at Vickis excited stuttering.
Of course well talk to your father! Ruth
Benson responded. Her gray eyes sparkled. I only
wish I could talk to your Cousin Cissy, too.
So Vicki called her home, via long-distance, and
then Professor Barr was on the telephone. She knew
perfectly well that her mother and Ginny were
listening in anxiously on the extension phone.
Professor Barr? said Ruth Benson smoothly.
This is the assistant superintendent of flight
stewardesses of Federal Airlines, and I just want to
tell you
Professor Barr? said Mr. Robles with authority.
May I introduce myself, sir, the Pan-American
39

Supervisor of Federal Airlines, calling to reassure


you, sir, that you are mistaken
Professor Barr? Captain Thomas Jordan, senior
pilot, in charge of the Mexican flight, said the flier
tersely into the phone. Professor, I am a pilot of
many years experience and the father of three
children myself
Professor Barr? said Dean a little shakily, but
Tom Jordan poked him. Dean Fletcher calling, sir,
copilot of the Mexican team, and I will particularly
look out for your daughter
Professor Barr? Hello, sir, remember Pete
Carmody of the New York Chronicle? Pete fired
into the phone. Professor, I have here in my hand
the latest press report from the United States Public
Health Service, Border Information Bureau, stating
there is no epidemic, nor any danger of epidemic,
now going on in Mexico!
Vickis knees were shaking by this time and her
palms were damp. Either her father was convinced
or he was furiously angry. The others drew her to
the phone. She gingerly picked up the receiver and
said weakly:
Hello, Dad.
Professor Barr was laughing.
All right, all right, Vicki! You win! And please
thank all your good friends for me!
That New Years celebration was unique. It
40

consisted of a spontaneous party right there in the


apartment, starting with the moment Vicki called
thanks and good-bye to her family, and hung up on
Fairview. Their celebration lasted hilariously until
Ruth Benson warned Vicki it was time to pack for
her flight to Mexico.

41

CHAPTER III

Crossing the Border

There were planes direct from New York to Mexico


City, but these planes were booked solid. Space was
found for Captain Jordans crew on one of Federals
planes flying to Laredo, Texas. They would stay in
Laredo overnight, and cross the border into Nuevo
Laredo, Mexico, the following morning. From
Nuevo Laredo they would take a Mexican plane the
rest of the way.
The two pilots, Captain Jordan and Dean
Fletcher, fumed a little about this delay. Vicki
glanced at them across the aisle of the skimming,
roaring, swaying plane, and smiled to herself. Tom
Jordans lips moved as he pored over a large air map
of Mexico. Dean was scowling and laboring with a
Spanish-English dictionary of technical terms. The
crew would fly not between Mexico and the United
States but only within Mexico Itself. Well, she had
better study, tooabout a stewardesss particular
concern: people. The Latin-American almanac Ruth
42

Benson had given her lay ready in Der lap. She sat
in one of the single seats, beside a plane window, so
she could study without distraction.
But Vicki was too excited to study just yet. The
girls good-byes and congratulations and laughter
still rang in her mind Here goes the baby of the
class! Write us, Vicki, especially what Cousin
Cissys like. Dont forget youre still one of Mrs.
Duffs girls! Good luck, Vic! Happy landings!
Good-bye, goodbye! It was afternoon now and the
big ship was well on its way, somewhere over
Maryland.
Unconsciously Vicki drew a strand of silky ashblonde hair across her upper lip, mustache fashion.
She stroked it as she daydreamed. Stopping over in
Texas was not half bad. Even though it was to be
only a few hours layover, shed get a taste of a
great state shed never seen before. What was it
Miss Benson had laughingly said to her once? Ive
never seen such a glutton for change as you are,
Vicki Barr!
Its true, I do yearn for new places, Vicki
thought, and for travel and adventure. What sheer
luck that Ive landed a job in the transportation
business! Just hope I do a really good job in Mexico,
so that eventually Federal will send me all around
the world!
But if she was going to turn in that superb
43

performance in Mexico, she had better understand


her passengers there, Mexican people. And a good
way to do that was to understand their past. Vicki
opened her book to the index, found: Mexico,
History of, and settled down to read.
As her blue eyes skimmed across the pages, Vicki
grew more and more fascinated. Centuries ago,
emerging out of the mists of early time, the Aztec
Indians had built up their empire in Mexico. For
more centuries the Aztec empire endured, growing
highly civilized in many ways: with free towns and
citizens who voted, although Aztec kings ruled; with
metropolitan cities having several hundred thousand
inhabitants; with flourishing agriculture, fine arts,
and a science of astronomy which has never been
surpassed.
Shortly after Columbus discovered that not India
but rich, new continents lay to Europes west, Spain
sent more men to seize and claim some of these
riches. Corts landed on Mexican soil in 1519. He
was over-whelmed by the splendor of Montezumas
court, and admitted that Aztec language,
architecture, and society were as developed as those
of sixteenth-century Spain.
Corts and his invaders had guns, the Indians had
none. For three hundred years Mexico was a colony
of the Spanish crown. Silver and gold from the
Mexican mountains helped make Spain wealthy and
44

powerful, and the once-free Aztecs worked their


mines and plantations as a slave people. Yet, to
Mexico, the Spaniards brought the civilization of
Europe, a new language and religion.
But the Spaniards did not, or could not, impose
their ways on the Indians. Both Spanish and Indian
ways of life continued in Mexico, sometimes
warring, sometimes existing side by side, sometimes
intermingling. Gradually, marriages between Indians
and Spanish descendants led to a new Mexican: the
mestizo, which is the Spanish word for mixed.
Im beginning to understand. Vicki put down
her book and looked out the plane window. So Im
going to meet three types of Mexicans: pure Indian,
pure Spanish or white, and the new breed, mestizo.
Her book said that now, of every hundred Mexicans,
about twenty were of Spanish descent, forty were
Indian, and forty were mestizo.
Vicki read the rest quickly, for it told of stormy
times. Mexico won her independence from Spain in
1821 and became a republic. At once other foreign
nations and ambitious Mexicans tried to gain control
of the young nation and her wealth. Wild confusion
and violence followed. Then in 1858 an Indian,
Benito Juarez, became president. Now at last it
seemed as if the Indians, who, during three hundred
years of the Conquest, had remembered their ancient
freedom, would finally be free.
45

But Napoleon III coveted Mexico as a French


colony. He installed as puppet emperor of Mexico,
Archduke Maximilian of Austria and his wife,
Carlotta, for a brief and tragic reign. The Mexicans
revolted, shot Maximilian, and drove the French
invaders out of) Mexico.
Once more the young republic tried to patch up
its wounds. A dictator, Porfirio Daz, imposed law
and order, but only he and his friends and a few
foreign investors benefited. The Mexican people
once again were kept impoverished, uneducated, and
practically slaves. Resentment smoldered. Thirty
years of dictatorship were endured before Diaz was
overthrown.
Finally, by 1910, Mexico had driven out all
foreign invaders and domestic tyrants. Now she
became a democracy in reality, writing a
Constitution and a Bill of Rightsfreeing the towns
and villagessubdividing large land holdings
among the citizens. Good presidents, Crdenas,
Camacho, Aleman, hastened this program along and
introduced modern schools and Clinics and
machinery. The Mexican Army fought alongside the
other Allies in winning World War II. The most
ultramodern farming techniques, industries,
buildings, arts, and educational plans were now
under way, Aztec and Spanish suddenly catching up
with the twentieth century.
46

I wonder, Vicki mused, closing her book, how


Id feel if I were a Mexican? I would have grown up
poor and hungry and illiteratewith no rightsthen
practically all of a sudden, Id be a free citizen. With
a school and a hospital to go to, for the first time in
my life. MaybeVicki frowned, as an idea hit
hermaybe Id be bewildered at first. Must be a
colossal task to get over the effects of centuries of
slavery.
Whaaat? Dean called across the aisle.
Vicki flushed and grinned. I was busy imagining
I was a Mexican, she called back. Captain Jordan
fortunately did not hear.
Dean stared at her, then announced resignedly,
Youre daft. I always suspected it. His cool gray
eyes appraised Vicki. Besides, youre too fair to be
a Mexican.
Apparently he was picturing her in a serape and
sombrero, with a rose between her teeth.
But, Dean, I was merely imaginingtrying to
put myself in the other persons place
Dean was too matter-of-fact to understand this.
Youd better wait till we get down there. Then you
wont have to imagine things. He stretched his lean
length in the chair. Hummph! Still, I guess youre
no sillier than other girls.
Vicki chuckled. She knew Dean had four
brothers, no sisters, more interest in aeronautics than
47

in girls, and a shy nature. So she cheerfully ignored


his remarks.
Captain Jordan leaned forward in his chair beside
the window, to smile at her and Dean, the two
youngsters in hi j crew.
Studying hard, Vicki? Getting tired? Well be
there pretty soon now.
Afternoon shadows lengthened through the plane
cabin. The sun was away over on the side of their
ship now. Vicki saw that they were flying over miles
of prairie, herds of cattle and horses, villages, oil
towers, cactus, trees, and long highways.
Texas, Captain Jordan called above the roar of
the motors. Were going to fly over Dallas and Fort
Worth. Watch for em.
They flew over the skyscrapers and pleasant
residential areas of these two great cities, and on
over great stretches of Texas. At San Antonio their
plane landed. Vicki, Dean, and Captain Jordan left
the plane, and walked around for a few minutes to
un-limber their legs. Vicki stared at the men wearing
boots and ten-gallon hats with their business suits, at
the palm trees blowing in the mild January breeze, at
the enormity and brilliance of the first evening stars.
Were getting really south, she said.
Boarding a local plane, they took off for Laredo.
Cabin lights went on. It was growing too dark to see
much down on the ground below. Vicki must have
48

dozed, for almost abruptly they were coming down


again. They had arrived in Laredo, last town within l
he United States border.
On the dark airfield Captain Jordan sought out the
passenger agent. He verified that their luggage was
being checked throughthey carried with them only
small overnight bags with a few necessitiesand
would catch up with them tomorrow at Mexico City.
This done, the three of them climbed into a cab and
drove into Laredo, to their hotel.
Vicki was tired and hungry by this time but so
interested she nearly fell out the taxi window.
It looks just like those rootin tootin wild West
movies!
But it has a Mexican flavor, Tom Jordan said.
Laredo, with its flat streets and low, balconied,
wooden buildings, still looked like a frontier town.
Vicki saw signs in English and Spanish, darkskinned boys in blue jeans, a purplish night sky. A
barbecue vendor hawked his wares in a palm-lined
square. But Vicki also noticed modern business
buildings of white stone, good-looking shops, and
tall municipal buildings, and pretty girls wearing the
latest Hollywood styles and hair-dos. Its Laredo,
but it could just as well be Brooklynor Fairview!
In the lobby of the modest hotel, they registered.
Notice how much warmer it is here? Dean said,
mopping his face. He folded up the overcoat he had
49

worn in New York this morning.


They had a makeshift supper, since it was late
and not many places were open on New Years Day.
Vickis eyes grew heavy and her lids drooped. She
said good night to the two pilots and went to her
room. The last thing she remembered was watching
the old-fashioned ceiling fan spinning lazily over her
hotel bed.
She awoke to a hot, brilliant morning. The sky
outside her window was turquoise. Downstairs, the
hotel dining room swarmed with men in boots and
ten-gallon hats. Did you find the cattle that got
away, Bob? Not yet. Been over to the oil wells
this morning. Vicki located her two pilots, looking
strangely citified among these Texans.
Good morning, Vic! Ready to cross the border?
All ready, she replied calmly. But her heart
rose in her throat. All three of them admitted to
being excited, yet full of vague misgivings.
Lets see, what terrible errors could we make?
Captain Jordan joked as they breakfasted. Get lost
in the Mexican air lanes?
Get lost in one of those uncharted valleys, Dean
grunted.
or Vic here could get off on the wrong foot
with her Cousin Cissy, Tom Jordan teased. Or
Professor Barr could decide Cissy isnt a good
chaperon and Vicki must come right home!
50

Dont, Vicki implored. Just because youre a


parent yourself, Capn
Miss Barr, calling Miss Barr, Miss Victoria
Barr, chanted the bellboy. Beckoned to their table,
he came over with a telegram. Vicki was not
surprised, since she had given her family her
itinerary, but she was disquieted. Captain Jordan
tipped the boy while Vicki opened the envelope.
From your father, Captain Jordan predicted,
teasing, saying Turn around and come right
home.
From Ruth Benson, Dean said, grinning,
saying theyve decided youre too young for this
assignment.
The telegram read: COUSIN CISSY WIRES CAN YOU
BUY HER A CANOE? DAD IS BEGINNING TO THINK SHE IS
WACKY. BUT DONT WORRY, MOTHER AND I ARE
PROTECTING YOUR INTERESTS. LOVE, GINNY.

In consternation Vicki turned to Captain Jordan.


So you thought you were joking, did you? She
handed him the telegram. Why does Cissy want me
to get a canoe?
She probably cant buy one in Mexico City at
the moment, Dean answered. There are lots of
lakes around there. But he rubbed his head.
And I suppose Cissy thought her request would
reach me in New York, where one can buy anything,
any time. Poor Ginny! Poor Mother! They must be
reassuring Dad like mad.
51

Dean, too, read Ginnys telegram. Although


Cousin Cissy clearly loomed up as possible trouble
for Vickie the request for a canoeof all things
struck them funny.
Cant you just see me? Vicki laughed. Getting
off the plane at Mexico City with a nice new canoe
strapped to my back?
Comfortable Captain Jordan glanced at his wrist
watch and rose from the table. Whos ready to
cross the Rio Grande? No, Vic, no time now to go
hunting up a canoe. We have to pass through
customs, so lets get started.
Vicki excitedly went back to her room to get her
coat and overnight bag. A middle-aged Mexican
woman in bright pink and green was vacuuming the
corridor carpet.
Buenos das, she smiled at Vicki.
Uhgood morningbuenos das, Vicki got
out, and smiled back. She felt she was practically
over the border already.
A car took them and some other travelers down
Laredos main street, to a bridge which crossed the
broad, yellow, muddy Rio Grande. Stalled on that
bridge in a long line of waiting cars, they were in
neither one country nor the other. At the Mexican
end of the bridge was Mexican customs: small
houses with their doors open, a few dark men behind
worn desks. Here Vicki unlocked her overnight bag
52

and one of the customs agents searched its contents.


Their other luggage would be inspected routinely
when it arrived. The customs agent looked at Vickis
passport, required of visitors staying in Mexico
more than six months, and waved her on. At other
tables Dean and Captain Jordan were submitting to
the same procedure.
Well, that was quick and easy!
Yes. Well never get back in, through American
customs, that easily, Captain Jordan said.
Vickis blue eyes flew open. You mean well
have trouble getting back into our own country?
The pilot laughed, said no, and shooed her and
Dean back into the same car. The other travelers
piled in, too: everybody was going to the Nuevo
Laredo airport.
Nuevo Laredo, here on the Mexican side of the
Rio Grande, was a sun-baked village of wooden
shacks. Speeding along, the countryside suddenly
changed, and became cactus-strewn desert. Vicki
saw a bare-foot man in a white cotton suit astride a
little burro or donkey. She looked back at the
distant, white stone business buildings of Laredo
and blinked. So borders were sometimes natural
boundaries! Just a few miles across the river, but the
temperature had shot up, the roads were sun-baked
dust, and red, pink, and purple bougainvillea grew
on the roofs of the occasional white clay huts.
53

Bienvenido Mjico! their driver called


proudly. Welcome to Mexico!
Strange, Vicki muttered to Dean as they drove
up to the sun-drenched airport. The airport building
was small, handsome, ultramodern. But the airfield
was a stretch of reddish clay and some tall grass.
Their waiting silver plane bore the name of FederalMexico Airlines. In the grass beside the plane, cows
grazed.
Cows and planes! Captain Jordan muttered.
Guess this is just a local station.
Even when their shipload took off, in a blast of
wind and dust, the cows did not look up from their
chewing. Vicki suspected this was what Mexico,
History of had meant by the old and the new, side
by side. The nonchalance of those cows! she
chuckled.
As the plane rose and leveled off, Vicki had
another surprise. Mountains appeared out of the sky
to meet thembut what strange mountains! They
hunched themselves up in huge brown lumps,
bumps, and spines, like some prehistoric dinosaur.
Vicki thought the earth must have looked like this,
hot, bare, ungainly, at the beginning of creation.
Almost immediately the going over those
mountains got rough. The plane dropped, fell
sideways, righted itself with an effort. Vicki looked
with apprehension at Dean and Captain Jordan
54

across the aisle. They shrugged, as baffled as she


was. But if her two pilots felt alarmed, they were not
going to show it. A few seconds of calm flying, then
the ship shook all over like a leaf in the wind, and
abruptly dropped down. Vicki heard the pretty
Mexican hostess say, in English, to someone back of
her:
But there are no such things as air pockets, sir.
No, sir, there is no cause for alarm, no, sir.
Up their ship went once more, shuddering, just in
time to clear one of those rounded peaks that looked
so deceptively low. Passengers began to open the
small, round air vents in the plane wall above their
heads. Cold air whistled in but it steadied shaking
stomachs, Vickis included. In front of her, a baby
started to cry. The pretty hostess fluttered up there
with half a lemon, apparently the Mexican seasick
remedy.
Dean! Vicki called across the wind and engine
noise. Whatwhy?
He looked up from the air map which Captain
Jordan had unfolded. Dont know. Pretty rugged,
isnt it?
Now the plane was being tossed around in
earnest, us the mountains grew higher, denser, and
even more strangely malformed. Vickis stomach
seemed to bolt into her throat. She began to swallow
often and earnestly.
55

Dean smiled wanly and beckoned to Vicki to lean


across the aisle. He shouted consolingly in her ear:
Oh Mister Captain, stop the ship,
And let me get off and walk!
I feel so flipperty flopperty flip,
Well never reach New York!
Vicki tried to grin but the plane bucked, dropped,
veered up with the earth at a crazy angle, barely (it
seemed) missed mountains outside the skidding
silver wings.
Vicki looked around in alarm for the hostess, for
an explanation, for reassurance. The hostess was
pale and hanging on for dear life to a baggage shelf.
She caught Vickis urgent glance, staggered toward
her, and said, Youll be all right once you are out in
the air, seorita.
Out in the air? Vicki did not understand.
Suddenly the flying felt worse than before. They
were plummeting down to earth like an eagle
pouncing on its prey. Vicki felt her insides violently
protesting. Then all at once, the plane was rolling
smoothly to a stop, and her stomach abruptly calmed
right down to normal.
Whew!
And I thought I knew something about flying!
This from Captain Jordan.
56

Dean took Vickis elbow and steered her out of


the plane and into the open air. Once in the reviving
air, they all felt fine again.
Where are we?
Fuel stop. Middle of nowhere, it looks like.
They were in a ring of mountains, on a bare,
cleared field. Sky, mountaintops, atmosphere, all
were very bluea deep, strong, tropical blueand
the air so clear they could see for miles. They
strolled over to the Spanish-looking terminal house,
to wait out the fifteen-minute stop in the shade.
Theres our pilot! Tom Jordan seized Vickis
arm. Lets go ask him if its always this rough over
these mountains. You talk, Vic.
Obedient but scared, Vicki marched with him
over to the young Mexican pilot. He was smallboned and of medium height, with small hands and
feet. He had regular features, smooth dark
complexion, and great, lustrous, black eyes framed
in lashes like fringe. His face crinkled into a grin, as
Vicki stammered:
Tenga la bondad de decirnos, Capitn, ss
es siempre, sobre estes montes? Please tell us,
Captain, ififits always, over these mountains
?
Thats okay, miss, I speak English. No, this run
over these mountains isnt generally so hard. Of
course, this is a very high range. Remember were
57

coming in to Mexico City, which is seven thousand


feet above sea level. But were riding the end of a
severe dust storm.
No wonder its bumpy, Dean said.
The Mexican pilot grinned again. The plane
scheduled after us was grounded. Were the last
plane to be let through for two or three days to
come. You are fliers?
Howd you guess? Wed like to congratulate you
on the way you handled that ship, Captain Jordan
said. He introduced himself and Vicki and Dean,
explaining they were going to fly for FederalMexico, too.
Glad to know you. Im Juan Arroyo. They all
shook hands. Well be seeing one another around
the Mexico City airport, then. To Vicki he said,
with a merry look, Sera fcil encontrarle Vd.,
Seorita Barr. Vd. es probablemente la sla rubia en
Mjico.It will be easy to find you, Miss Barr.
Youre probably the only blonde in Mexico.
Vicki flushed to the roots of her light hair, but
was consoled as she glanced at her own two pilots.
Here in this tropical sunshine, beside Juan Arroyo,
Dean and Tom Jordan looked as pale and pasty as
she felt.
The Mexican pilot went off with his copilot to
have a look at the engines. Dean muttered, He
speaks my language, makes me ashamed I cant
58

speak his. Darn it, Ill learn yet to talk Spanish as


well as understand it! Just because pilots dont have
to converse with the passengers is no excuse.
Vicki made it her business, since the second half
of the flight was smoother, to study the Mexican
passengers and Mexican flight stewardess. These
were the people she soon would deal with, or people
like them. Vickis face grew thoughtful as she
peered around the cabin, not able to see anything
startling in the other passengers. The hostess
appeared beside her with a tray of lunch.
Le gustara?Would you like this?
Uhcreo que s.I think so, Vicki
answered, uncertain whether her stomach would
cooperate, but willing to try. Thanks.
The lunch was excellent. Vicki explored the hot
and cold casseroles, knowing she was to serve this
same sort of menu. She found steak, with a curious
potpourri of vegetables she had never seen or heard
of before. Fruit juice, roll and butter, fruit salad and
cookies, were all recognizable but had a different
tang than at homeriper and sweeter. The tray
linens, the silver knife and spoons and forks sealed
in cellophane, the complimentary guidebook to
Mexico, comprised superb service, second to none.
The hostess came by a little later and took Vickis
tray with a smile. Vicki longed to talk, to ask
questions, but the hostess was too busy with lunch.
59

She was an extremely pretty girl, dark-haired, very


white-skinned, slim and athletic in her creamcolored Palm Beach uniform with white silk blouse.
Thats the same uniform Ill wear, Vicki
thought. And that girl will be one of my fellow
stewardesses. Maybe Ill get to know her one of
these days.
Across the aisle, Captain Jordan was again
following their course on the air map. Dean glanced
up from the map to grin at Vicki, and point out the
plane window.
The mountain peaks had disappeared. They were
flying toward fertile, reddish-brown plains, dotted
with green trees. Here and there lay low, white,
spread-out villages. From the pressure in her ears,
Vicki knew they were still flying very high: this
level ground beneath them must be a high plateau
between higher mountains.
Almost there. Dean nudged her.
Now they flew over miles and miles of a big,
cosmopolitan, Latin citytypically, a city of white
buildings. But it was not, Vicki noticed, the bright
white of north, snow, and antiseptic cleanliness.
This was the creamy white of sun-baked clay
haciendas, of hazy heat and slow, ancient time. This
vast metropolis below her was the oldest city in the
western hemisphere, once Tenochtitlan, the Aztec
capital, Mexico City now.
60

Vicki jammed on her hat. I feel practically as


excited as Corts!
They were circling, dropping lower and lower.
Vicki strapped in for the landing. She looked down
on fine, large hangars, terminal buildings, and
airstrips andgrassy fields, workers huts, and cows
grazing!
The cows went right on chewing as the plane
zoomed past the huts and settled down lightly on the
ground.

61

CHAPTER IV

Cousin Cissy

A note from Cousin Cissy was waiting for Vicki at


their hotel. She took it as they registered in the
picturesque lobby.
Chaperoning me already! Vicki exclaimed. She
read the small card gingerly, and could not quite
decide what to make of it:
Will you go lunching and boating with us
tomorrow at one? So eager to meet you. Love,
Cousin Cissy. A telephone number was scribbled
in. On the face of the calling card was engraved:
Mrs. Stephen Clayton.
Dean wanted to know if you could have lunch in
a canoe, short of disaster, and how Cissy had
achieved a canoe, without Vickis help. The note
made it clear that Mrs. Barrs letterthe one Vicki
mailed in Fairview herselfhad now arrived and
that Cissy was manfully going to do her duty.
Anyway, Cissy was being cordial and hospitable.
Yes, I think well have plenty of free time for
62

the next few days, Captain Jordan said in answer to


Vickis question. Yes, go ahead and accept that
invitation.
Dean looked so wistful that Vicki said shed ask
Cissy to extend her invitation to include him, too.
Captain Jordan laughingly declined being included.
Im too big. Id sink any little boat. He had several
professional acquaintances to look up here, anyway.
Vicki decided to telephone Cissy after dinner.
If Cissy turns out to be a stern, basso-voiced
dowager, at least I want to be fortified with food,
Vicki said. Ill wire the family of our safe arrival
after dinner, too. See you in half an hour, Capn,
Dean.
She was fascinated with this foreign hotel. To
show her to her room, the bellboy led her through
lobbies filled with American tourists (Vicki might as
well have been back in New York), then through a
long, wide corridor where guests were having
frosted drinks. This passageway was tiled in pink
and green, cooled by fountains, set with Spanish
tables and chairs of leather, wrought iron, and tile. It
was lit by lambent green windows, and over it all
wound great feathery palms, ferns, plants, orange
trees in pots. Vicki felt she was in a tropic forest or
under green, slightly moving water.
Ill ask Cousin Cissy to tea here, Vicki thought,
mindful of her manners. What a setting for a
63

romance! I suppose chaperons dont approve of


romance.
Soberly she trotted on after the bellboy. But when
she saw the room he unlocked for her, Vicki cheered
up. French windows opened onto a patio crowded
with green plants and misty with twilight sifting
down from the sky. The room held dark, carved,
Spanish furniture and had a gaily tiled bath. The
shower glittered with every American gadget plus
some extras.
Vicki rested for a few minutes in a deep chair
facing the patio. She was surprised at how fatiguing
travel could be. The balmy, dusky air soothed her.
Someones radio played an American jazz number.
Voices came in from adjoining apartments. A man
in the next room was telephoning, a strong, clear,
businesslike voice.
Send this cable to my embassy in he named a
South American country. Ready?report on
suspects . . . have identified . . . operative . . .
antique smugglers . . . Acapulco . . .
Vicki doubted that she was hearing right. She had
not caught everything he was saying, but how could
he be so careless! Or had he forgotten the open
doors and windows? Or was the message not so
confidential that he needed to be discreet?
appears questionable. Believe key man . . .
smuggling . . . possibly in Acapulco . . . Letter
64

follows.Thats all, operator.Yes, sign my


name.
Vicki heard a click as the man hung up. What was
it all about? Without the least intention of
eavesdropping, she had heard enough to rouse a
lively interest.
Well, Ill never know. People pass in and out of
hotels by the thousands and are never heard of
again.
But she thought of the overheard message as she
finished dressing. Acapulco . . . That was a city on I
he Pacific coast, she remembered.
Captain Jordan and Dean stood waiting for her in
the lobby, looking very scrubbed and very hungry.
Nevertheless, they had a gardenia for her and
presented it with a flourish. Dean blurted out:
We bought it from an Indian woman out on the
sidewalk. She has baskets full. She says gardenias
and orchids grow wild here, imagine.
To celebrate our arrival, Captain Jordan said as
Vicki thanked them and pinned the flower on her
shoulder. Too bad Dean and I cant wear gardenias,
too.
In the high-ceilinged dining room, with its blue
and yellow tiles and lace curtains, the Indian
waitresses in neat, uniforms spoke no English and
very little Spanish. Pointing to items on the menu
did not help. Vicki and! her pilots simply ate what
65

was brought them. They were a little astonished at


eggs ranchero and papaya salad, but roast beef and
berry pie were familiar enough. The check said
$5.50 apiecea total of $16.50.
No, no, thats pesos, not dollars, Tom Jordan
reminded them. Five Mexican pesos equal one
American dollar. Five centavos equal one cent. Fifty
centavos equal ten cents. Same system, but they
count in fives, we count in ones. Lets go get our
money changed into Mexican money.
They went to the exchange window in the lobby,
marked Cambio. Here they turned in most of their
United States money and received smaller bills and
big, burnished coins in several sizes.
Ill never learn all these, Vicki sighed. Dean
showed her how clearly they were marked. All she
had to remember was to divide all Mexican prices
by five. Captain Jordan said the exchange was now
at 4.8. That is, instead of a full five pesos for a
dollar, they received 4.8 pesos for a dollar, because
business conditions just now were a little more
favorable for Mexicans than for Americans. Seeing
Vickis inquiring look, Captain Jordan explained
that foreign exchange always fluctuated a little
between all nations.
With their money changed, telegrams sent to their
three respective families, and an inquiry, far too
soon, for mail from home, their chores were done.
66

Vicki was now free to telephone Cousin Cissy. She


dreaded approaching her involuntary chaperon.
Maybe Cissy is still at dinner, Vicki said
hopefully. Maybe I shouldnt phone her yet.
Besides, who wants to take a walk?
Captain Jordan said sternly, Young lady, you
phone your aunt or cousin or whatever she is. And
were all going to our rooms. Weve been up and on
the go since early this morning. Do you know what
time it is? Ten oclock! Just because it stays light
here for so long, and dinner is at eight or nine
or ten, said Vicki. I read that in my
almanac. It says people here dine at nine or ten, go
to the theater at eleven, and to bed at two. Because
the heat of midday All right, all right, Capn. I
admit Im stalling. Im going to my room right now
and, yes, phone Cissy.
Good luck. Dean grinned. Good night, Vic.
In her room, Vicki gazed at the telephone, too a
deep breath, and asked for Cissys number. A ma
answered in Spanish.
Seora Clayton, por favor, Vicki said.
A womans voice came on the wire. Vicki?
Why, yes! Vicki gasped. Is my Spanish accent
that bad? How do you do, Cousin Cissy.
Hello, my dear, and Stevemy husbandthe
one who answered the phonesays hello, too, dont
you, dear? No, Vicki, I knew it was you because
67

otherwise I would have been in bed asleep.


I beg your pardon? Vicki faltered.
I mean, my friends never call me after ten, they
think Im quite mad to keep American hours, of
course, but you know I was brought up on a farm
and I just cant get used to these late Mexican hours,
everyone gets up at five on a farm and is in bed by
nine, here they do everything two to three hours
late! No, no, Vicki, you havent wakened me
please dont feel badly! How is Bettyyour
mother?
Vicki was left breathless by this speech, but she
managed to say her mother was very well indeed,
and sent her love. Vicki had got absolutely no
picture of Cissy from the conversation so far.
Cissy asked sweetly, Did you bring me a
canoe?
Im so sorry, I
Oh, you sent it, then! Naturally. I should have
said send. What sort of canoe is it?
Cousin Cissy, Im afraid youre going to be
awfully disappointed
Oh, thats all right, Vicki, any canoe you picked
out will be fine.
Vicki grasped the telephone and shouted into it:
I didnt get you a canoe! Your request reached
me too late! I am so terribly sorry, Cousin Cissy.
Perhaps Dad or Mother can buy it
68

Vicki heard a little moan at Cecilia Claytons end


of the wire. She wished she knew what Cissy looked
like, or how old she was, before venturing any
deeper into this conversation.
Never mind the canoe, Vicki, a plane will do
instead.
What? cried Vicki, unable to believe her ears.
Ive always wanted to fly, but well go boating
tomorrow, anyway, you and Steve and I. Shall we
pick you up at your hotel at one?
Vicki said that would be perfect and, gulping,
would Cissy be very generous and consider letting
Vicki bring her friend and copilot, Dean Fletcher?
Cissy said certainly, she just adored fliers and had
always wanted to meet one. They would lunch on
the water, no, no, Vicki mustnt thank her, good-bye
till one tomorrow.
My stars! Vicki hung up and wandered over to
the patio windows, in need of air. What have I
inheriteda chaperon or an amiable zany? Cissy
sounded sweet, all the same, and certainly not dull.
Vicki went to sleep chuckling.
Next morning Vicki and Dean engaged a car and
a driver-guide, and had their first good look at
Mexico Citycalled simply Mexico within the
country. This national capital was enormous,
cosmopolitan, elegant as Paris, gay as New York, so
beautiful that Dean and Vicki gasped and exclaimed.
69

Look at the palms! And this double boulevard!


And the monuments and skyscrapers and the Indians
in barefoot sandals!
Look at the bullfighters on horseback and the
stunning new automobiles!
This boulevard, the celebrated Paseo de la
Reforma, had tall spreading trees and rows of tall,
rich royal palms, many walks and benches and
sculptures. For miles along the Paseo, fine white
marble houses were set in flowering gardens, behind
lacy black wrought-iron fences. Their car turned
down side streets. The gardens disappeared and
narrow city houses lined up against one another
houses creamy white, pale pink, blue, green, beige.
Vicki and Dean glimpsed leafy patios within, as
their car sped by.
Do we have to drive so fast? Vicki cried. Ms
despacio! Slower!
Their beady-eyed driver turned to smile at her,
narrowly missing a bus. I thought Americans were
always in a hurry?
There were no traffic lights, everyone simply
tooted his horn. At corners you stopped suddenly,
inches from the car you nearly hit, smiled politely at
the other driver, and sprinted off again, tooting.
The sunny weather felt like spring, the trees and
palms and abundant flowers bloomed in summery
luxuriance. They followed the Paseo to the San
70

Angelina suburb (it took nearly an hour to drive


there), to see brand-new homes like palaces out of a
fantasy. Cream or pink stucco houses melted into
walled gardens, red tile roofs drowned under
flowering bougainvillea and roses and blue cielo
azul. Vicki could not see into the tall, arched
windows, made not of ordinary glass but of
sparkling crystal, for they were carved like fine cut
glass for table use. The gorgeous windows were
protected outside by lacelike black iron grilles, and
within, were heavily curtained in white lace. Such
jealous privacy, typically Spanish, had come to
Mexico via Spain from the Orient.
Spanish? the driver repeated dryly. This is the
Spain of a real-estate promoters dream. Ill show
you something truly Mexican.
He showed them the plain house of the painter,
Diego Rivera. Before it grew a fence of cactus, a tall
formidable straggly row, like men of different
heights in different postures, standing guard.
Wherever you see that cactus fence, out in the
back country, you will find Indians.
You need gas, Dean noticed.
The driver pulled into a filling station. It was
exactly like an American one and sold American
gasoline. The Indian or mestizo attendants wore
sombreros and sandals along with their neat blue
mechanics coveralls. Vicki stared at their flat black
71

eyes and high, blunt cheekbones; they were not very


brown. They stared as inquisitively at tall, lean Dean
and at Vicki with her light hair, but were very shy.
When Dean spoke first, they grinned and responded:
You Americans? Hokay. Hallo. So long.
Chum!
The driver laughed as they started away. We
learn English from Donal Duck. Also in school, but
Donal is better. Where shall we go now?
They debated whether they had time, before
meeting Cissy, to see the San Angelina Cathedral
and the National Institute of Colonial Monuments
adjoining it.
Vicki looked at her watch. Its a shame to rush
through them.
But theyre just across the street, said the
driver.
The cathedral, the first of many Vicki was to see
in this devout land, was beautiful and old. It had
been built when Mexico was a colony of Spain.
Although now preserved as a museum, the old
cathedral was filled with dark-red carnations, roses,
and candles, and people knelt in meditation and
prayer. Vicki, Dean, and their guide tiptoed through.
Now for what we chiefly came to see,
whispered the guide.
He led the way through broken stone patios, past
crumbling fountains still guarded by the life-size
72

stone lions of Spain. In silence they moved through


tomblike cells containing cherished belongings of
nuns and priests long dead: a book, a favorite
handkerchief embroidered in the convent, an old
gold stylus pen. On the wall was a foggy mirror that
once showed other faces than Vickis, peering into
it.
As they were about to move on, a guard
approached and spoke to their guide. Vicki could not
hear what was said, but the man turned and asked in
English:
You will excuse me for a few minutes, please?
An old friend I have not seen in a very long time is
here, and I would like to speak with him.
Vicki and Dean nodded.
Thank you very much, the guide said. Wait
here, please. I shall not be long.
Vicki wandered toward the other side of the room
where there was a dark open doorway. Dean
followed and together they looked cautiously down
a steep, broken flight of steps leading far down into
a crypt.
Afraid to go down there? Dean asked.
N-no. But shouldnt we wait for the guide?
Hell catch up with us. Come on, Ill go first.
Dean gripped Vickis arm and they descended,
along subterranean stone stairs, past cellars at
different levels. It was damp, silent, dimly lit with
73

candles and a flickering electric bulb or two. They


emerged into a vault. Paved into the uneven stone
floor lay long tablets marking tombs. Beneath them
lay the dead.
Suddenly Dean seized Vicki by the shoulders and
whirled her around.
Go back! he commanded. I dont want you to
see it!
But she had seen and her gaze froze in horror.
Standing almost upright in his uptilted wooden
coffin grinned a skeleton, a Spanish nobleman dead
three to four hundred years. Buckles rusted on his
rotted pumps, his faded cravat was still knotted
beneath his empty, eyeless skull. The grandees
cloak, which his bony hands clasped about his
frame, was eaten away to bits and fragments of dust.
Vicki could not speak. Dean, too, was speechless
before the grisly, pitiful sight. They turned away,
hearing footsteps on the stairs and their guide calling
them.
I thought I had lost you, he said, coming into
the vault. He smiled very cheerfully. Now, in this
room, he pointed to the skeleton, you see the
Spaniard. Vandals long ago dug up his grave and
stripped him of the valuable jewelry he wore, gold
and precious stones.
He started to lead them into other rooms. But
after the sight of the looted tomb, Vicki felt she had
74

had enough for one day. She suggested skipping the


rest of the museum and perhaps returning some
other time. Dean, too, was willing to leave and quite
glad of the prospect of Cousin Cissy and a luncheon
party in the sunshine.
Back in the hotel lobby, the desk clerk told Vicki:
No mail yet, Miss Barr. But Mrs. Clayton is
waiting for you in the Palm Corridor. She has been
here about half an hour.
Thank you. Vicki turned to Dean. Waiting half
an hour! Poor Cissy! But, Dean, its still fifteen
minutes before the time we were to meet. Why?
What does she look like? Dean hissed in her
ear, as they sped off in search of Cousin Cissy.
Gosh, I dont know! Picking a person you dont
know out of a group of strangersthatll be just
dandy.
Under the fountains and palms and potted orange
trees, several tables were occupied. Groups of three
and four and five peopleno, Cissy was probably
alone or with her husband. Vicki studied the two
couples, trying not to stare. Was that Cissy, in the
big hat with the man wearing sports clothes? Or
were those two tall bony persons in glasses her
cousins and chaperons?
She must be alone, Dean muttered, putting his
hands in his pockets and taking them out again.
A small, plump, dark young woman smiled at
75

them, but she was so obviously Mexican that Vicki


knew the girl mistook them for somebody else.
Besides, she was a youthful twenty-eight or thirty
and Vicki expected someone much older. Vicki did
not speak, merely looked pleasant. She and Dean
strolled the length of the Palm Corridor, searching.
But there was no other woman alone. They started
back.
Hello, called the young Mexican woman.
Arent you my cousin, Vicki Barr?
Vicki and Dean stopped at her table. Vicki stared.
Are you Cissy? This small, roly-poly woman in
the brilliant red dress had black hair, black eyes, and
nut-brown skin, and a camellia in her hair.
Im sunburned, but its me. My husband says Ill
soon be permanently sunburned, like some of our
Mexican friends. But I cant speak Spanish, can
you? I can read it a little, but my accent is
incorrigibly United States, so no one can understand
me. Anyway, almost everyone in Mexico City
speaks English, and I admit I didnt try very hard to
learn. But I do know Mexico by now. Hello, Mr.
Fletcher, as Vicki, stunned, failed to perform
introductions. I didnt want to be late, you know.
Im a great believer in being early.
By now Dean was blinking, too. But Cissy
Clayton was as appealing as a happy, eager puppy
who wants to be friends. Dean smiled broadly and
76

Vicki felt a surge of relief. They sat down on either


side of her while Cissy chatted on.
Steve will be here soon but I like to be early.
Dont you like to do things on time? Even in
Mexico? I ought to explain to you about Mexicans
and time, they dont take time or money as seriously
as Americans do, theyre more philosophical. Of
course its partly because of the heat here, too. But
they have a joke They say Mexicans are more
reliable than Spaniards. If a Mexican makes an
appointment to meet you, h will show up. Maybe
two or three or four hours late, it is true, but he will
be therethe same day!
Dean ventured to inquire whether being early in
Mexico was an entirely practical procedure. Vicki
found a break in Cissys lively talk to relay her
familys greetings and messages, and to thank Cissy
for her answer to Professor Barrs wire.
I do hope my wire put his mind at rest, Cissy
said, her shiny black eyes earnest. He seemed so
upset, I did my best.
You did beautifully, fibbed Vicki. Ah
forgive me for askingbut are you old enough to
chaperon anybody?
Cissy shook all over with laughter, plumply. Im
a Mrs., arent I? I run a household and do
community work and work a day a week in the
American hospital, dont I? Or would you rather be
77

chaperoned by someone around seventy?


Horrors, no! And youre sweet, honestly, to take
me on.
Cissy dimpled, then shrewdly said, Dont think
Im as foolish as I sound. Im not. She squeezed
Vickis arm. Ill bet you brought some presents for
me.
That was so disarming they all laughed. Vicki
trotted right to her room and brought back the
stockings and books, and some candy and perfume
she had bought in New York. She wished there were
more gifts, as she and Dean watched Cissys real
delight.
These are wonderful! Ooh, taste the
chocolates!for Cissy had immediately untied the
box and tasted its contents. Why, all this is even
better than a canoe!
Dean laughed so hard he had to wipe his eyes.
Vicki tells me you want a canoe or a plane?
I really want both, Cissy confided, sniffing the
bottle of perfume. When we get to the Floating
Gardens for lunch, youll understand about wanting
a boat of my own. As for wanting a planewell,
Dean, youre a flier. I hear you can rent planes,
Piper Cubs and such.
You can? Dean cried joyously. Vic, did you
hear that? Im going to rent me a little plane. Well
all go flying around Mexico, on our days off!
78

The two girls were delighted, Cissy in particular.


Steve and I always did want to explore! She
explained that parts of Mexico were so mountainous
and wild that no car could get through. One had to
travel on foot or horseback. Or by plane, she
amended happily. Vicki, I adore your shoes! Dont
we wear about the same size? Trade with me for
todayno ones looking.
Laughing, they traded shoes under the table.
A nice-looking young man, conservatively
dressed, strolled in, glanced around, and caught
sight of them. He came over smiling.
My husband, Steve Clayton, said Cissy, almost
bursting with pride.
Steve grinned at her indulgently, and shook hands
with Vicki and Dean. He seemed to be the exact
opposite of his wifequiet, steady, brief-spoken,
but just as amiable.
Hope we can make your stay here a pleasant
one. Lets get out to the car. I have to go back to the
office later this afternoon.
During the drive out of Mexico City and into the
country, Steve Clayton told them he represented an
American automobile manufacturer here. He and
Cissy had been living in Mexico for about two
years. Steve had to make frequent business trips
back to Detroit. He said:
Im glad youre here, Vicki. You, too, Dean. It
79

isnt always possible to take Cissy along to Detroit


with me and she gets pretty lonesome. Now shell
have you for company.
Cissy hastened to say that she had plenty of
friends here, both Mexicans and Americans, but
cousins were something special, especially flying
ones. When Steve goes to Detroit, I dont have to
stay home, I can go gallivanting around with you
two in that rented plane.
Sure thing. Dean asked, Is there an American
settlement in Mexico City?
Steve, driving, answered that. Americans used to
live all to themselves in Mexico City, concentrated
in a few tight little blocks. Mexicans resented it, said
it was arrogant and unfriendly, said we came down
here to live and earn money in their country but
didnt bother to make friends with them, or even
learn their language. They were right, of course. Our
embassywe have a big one down here, seven
hundred peoplesuggested we live scattered all
over town and speak Spanish and get better
acquainted with our Mexican hosts. Its working out
happily. Steves firm mouth tightened. American
settlements, you said. Bad thing. Stirs up
international dislike. Europeans who come to Latin
America never make such a mistake.
Vicki remembered what Ruth Benson had told
her about travelers creating international good will
80

or ill will.
By now pyramids and rounded mountain peaks
distantly appeared. On those pyramids the Indians
had offered human sacrifices to their gods. They
drove on, stopping for herds of cattle to cross the
road. Finally they entered a park.
Small islands, covered with flowers and slim, tall
cypress trees, floated in a narrow canal. Indian
gardeners, stooping or kneeling, gravely worked on
the islands, cultivating flowers, fruits, and
vegetables. The car followed the winding canal until
they reached a village, and then a large wooden
pavilion. Here they parked, got out, took a picnic
basket from the storage compartment, and followed
Steve as he rented a boat.
It was the most delightful boat Vicki had ever
seen: a roofed gondola with tables and chairs. They
boarded it, and a young man with a pole clambered
on the rear platform and pushed the boat out onto
the tree-lined canal. Dozens of gondolas glided
softly along, in peaceful traffic. Each had a girls
name painted on it: Rosita, Frida, Candelaria,
Dolores. Their occupants sat smiling, visiting, eating
and drinking, and the lovers held hands. Vicki sat
with Dean and her hosts, breathing in the moist
greenery and flowers, listening to water and birds
and murmured voices, sun falling warmly across her
lap.
81

I never enjoyed anything so delicious! Vicki


exclaimed.
An Indian girl in a shallow punt glided up
alongside of them. Her shell was packed brimful
with violets, gardenias, roses, sweet peas, camellias,
tawny wild orchids, pansies, carnations, and
jasmine. Vicki gasped with pleasure. Their boatman
slowed down.
Flores? asked the Indian girl, smilingly holding
up corsages. Un peso.
Cissy swooped on an armful of deep-purple
violets. Vicki chose sweet peas, pink, rose, white,
and yellow. Dean also bought her five little bunches
of pansies, tied at intervals on a long straw string,
and still wet from the river. Both girls buried their
faces in the perfumed flowers. Cissy declared she
was extra happy because she was wearing Vickis
pretty shoes.
Their boat moved along. Other boats slid up to
them, offering food, pottery, jewelry, peasant
garments for sale. Steve politely declined these but
bought cool drinks. Cissy unpacked their picnic
lunch. As they ate, another gondola drew up beside
them. Six men in gaudy red-and-gold costumes, with
guitars, violins, and marimba, played and sang to
them.
How long has this been going on? Dean
murmured.
82

Xochimilco is five hundred years old, Steve


said. Youre being offered strictly Aztec recreation:
trade, food and drink, music, meditation in a flowery
place. Yes, youre seeing pretty much what the
Spanish conquerors saw.
Their gondola drifted on, under arched wooden
bridges, past overhanging willows, up the canal.
Time slowed and spun out, became a matter not of
clocks and schedules, but of centuries.

83

CHAPTER V

Vicki Gets to Work

Vicki buckled down to work. first stop was a visit,


with Captain Jordan and Dean, to the offices of
Federal-Mexico Airlines. They met the various
executives to whom they were responsible, and
Vicki had a nice chat with Seorita Violeta Castro,
in charge of flight stewardesses. The offices, people,
and methods of work here were surprisingly like
those back in New York. Vicki felt right at home.
Next chore was to have her Palm Beach uniform
and matching trench cap pressed, and quickly. Two
other flight stewardesses, Elena Carrera and Maria
Teresa Arroyo (Juans sister) obligingly took Vicki
to the tailors. They were both tall, slim, and
exceedingly pretty brunettes, friendly and gay. Vicki
thought she had never seen such coquettes as these
two. They talked Mexican slang which, when Vicki
mentally translated it back into English, had a
surprisingly familiar ring:
La cachaste?Catch on?
84

Y cmo no?And why not?


Es terrfico!Its terrific!
The words were Spanish, but the spirit was native
American. But when Vicki tried using the phrase, It
hits the spot, both Elena and Maria Teresa
demanded, What spot?
Another matter Vicki attended to was calling up
the three persons to whom she had letters of
introduction. They received her cordially, although
they were busy people and much older. Still, it was
reassuring to know that she could turn to these
substantial people, in case of any need.
A letter to Ruth Benson was dispatched, and
another to her family, and one to her New York
crowd of girls. Mail from home was arriving now.
Vickis mother wrote: Fairview is bitter cold, and
the lake is frozen over. Its hard to realize flowers
are blooming where you are. Yes, Vicki, we are all
well. Dad is preparing a new course he is to teach at
the university, and is too busy to cook, to my great
relief! Ginny is back in school, under protest.
Freckles and I are repotting all the shrubs and plants
in the sunroom, so that we shall have a really fine
garden next summer. . . . Tootsie Miller, and Dickie
and Lynn Brown, wish to be remembered to you.
Write often, dear, and be careful what you eat. With
love from us all, Mother.
Jean and Charmion wrote jointly from New York
85

I hat new flight schedules had gone into effect the


first of the year, and Ruth Benson had given all of
them new runs. The prospects of Jeans getting to
Mexico appeared remote, but she was hoping. Tessa,
their would-be actress, had almost been
discovered by a talent scout riding her plane.
Unfortunately he had turned out to be not a talent
scout, but merely an amateur photography fan.
Reading these letters in the hotel patio, Vicki
thought, It all seems so far away, now. She was a
good deal more excited about the beginning of her
Mexican runs. She had better go to bed early!
At four-thirty the next morning, Vicki put a last
pat of powder on her nose, tilted her trench cap just
so, sleepily left her room and headed for the
elevator. Surely, surely, no Mexican would be mad
enough to take a six-oclock planeshe would be
the only soul at the airport. The hotel lobby was
deserted and dimmed. In the open doorway, Captain
Jordan and Dean Fletcher were waiting for her,
looking spruce in their uniforms and reasonably
wide awake. Outside in the street, where a crew car
waited, it was still night.
They drove through a silent, moon-drenched city.
Only a few peasants trotting beside their little
burros, only the waving palm trees, were astir. But
when after a long, fast, chilly drive they reached the
Buena Vista airport, it was lighted up as gaily as a
86

circus. Planes arrived in the blowing grass, departed


in the white moonglow and the yellower glare of
beacon lights. Within the handsome airline station,
the microphone boomed out flight announcements
Indian boys in rough white cotton suits carried
luggagetravelers briskly read newspapers, or had
dawn breakfast in the glass-enclosed restaurant, or
bought Chanel No. 5 at the gift counter.
Vicki stared at the travelers. She had made a test
run with an experienced Mexican stewardess, but
still it amazed her to see barefoot Indians with bright
baskets full of roosters, boarding an airplane!
Pretty young air hostesses, lingering around the
desks of their own airlines, were exquisitely
powdered, coifed, high-heeled. They made Vicki
feel wind-blown after her drive. She went into the
ladies lounge for repairs. A dark girl ran in,
laughing and shivering. She was dressed in fleecy
white sports clothes, white sandals, and her wedding
ring was shiny new.
Voy Acapulco! she beamed at Vicki, as they
shared the dressing table. Im going to Acapulco!
Ill be on the beach in a hour!
Honeymoon? Vicki smiled. Luna de miel?
The girl nodded joyously and Vicki wished her
happiness.
You must go someday to Acapulco, the bride
urged her. It is a paradise.
87

But this morning Vicki was going to fly in the


opposite direction, east, to cities on the Gulf of
Mexico. The American crews first hop was to be to
Veracruz and Port of Mexico, with stops on the way,
and return to Mexico City. It was about a seven-hour
flight, round trip. Rejoining her two pilots, Vicki
went with them to the hangars, to get their plane in
last-minute readiness for the flight. Engines were
being tested, propellers spun, gasoline hosed into the
tanks. Vic said hello to several Mexican mechanics
and flight crews whom she had already met, and
went to check through her cabin.
The plane was taxied out on the field. The
gangplank was put in place. Her passengers began to
climb up, past Vicki, who stood in the plane
doorway checking their names on her manifest.
They included several businessmen, one sloe-eyed
movie star, one Argentine bullfighter, in a business
suit but carrying a cape and a case of swords, two
attractive families, two pleasure travelers, and the
shoeless, poker-faced Indian with the roosters. The
chickens screeched and shed feathers all over the
cabin floor, before Vicki could persuade the Indian
to put them in the cargo compartment.
Then a bank messenger, loaded with bags of
silver pesos, came aboard. The pesos were bound for
the Bank of Veracruz. The messenger started
stacking the bags in the cabin aisle.
88

Por favor, said Vicki. Put the peso bags in the


cargo compartment! She did not wish to be held
responsible for several thousand pesos.
Is better here, for ballast. Always do like this.
And the man continued strewing the heavy bags
around.
Vicki followed him, distraught. But they might
be stolen! she whispered in his ear.
The Mexican stiffened. Do you think we have no
honor?
He was right; the passengers merely glanced at
the bags without interest. Later, Vicki learned that in
Spain and Spanish-speaking countries, often there
are no locks on the doors. These people have too
much pride to steal.
When their plane landed half an hour later, Vicki
closed her eyes and prayed. The airfield at this tenminute stop was the size of somebodys front yard.
As usual, there in the tall grass were the cows, not at
all dismayed by a DC-3.
It was quite an experience, that first Mexican run.
All that sustained Vicki was the knowledge that
Dean and Tom Jordan, up front, were as astonished
as she wasthat, and her passengers unfailing
courtesy and good humor. She served a meal
including frijoles, and a fruit called guacamote.
Stopping at Tehuacn, she found three more
passengers waiting on the airfield than she had seats
89

for.
While Captain Jordan explained in English that
they could not overload, the passenger agent
wheedled in Spanish.
But these three have paid for their tickets. Just
this one little old lady.
Well, she is little. All right, Tom Jordan gave
in. Vicki translated.
Un momentito, she has a bundle. The bundle
turned out to be a large stalk of bananas, which the
little old woman clutched to her.
Now thats all, the pilot said firmly. Vicki
translated.
But her little daughter wishes to come, too. The
passenger agent waved at an impassive woman of
about forty. Please. Just her little daughter?
I guess we have enough weight spread, Captain
Jordan figured. All right, then, but thats all.
Again Vicki translated.
And this child? This child was a well-dressed
boy of eighteen or so, but he was a brawny six-footthree and weighed proportionately.
Tom Jordan looked at Vicki in desperation.
No ms! she said firmly. Not a single one
more! She made rapid, elaborate explanations and
apologies in Spanish, so that no ones feelings
would be hurt. Back on the plane, she had to admit
to herself that the more colorful characters were
90

exceptions. Most of the passengers were very like


North Americans.
Vicki regretted that they had only a ten- or
fifteen- minute stop at each town, and had to fly
right back to Mexico City. In Puebla she would have
liked to see the famous pottery market place. And in
Crdoba, she heard, a nine-day fiesta was in full
swing.
Never mind, Dean consoled her. The three of
them dined together nightly in the blue-and-yellow
tiled dining room, eating whatever the stolid Indian
waitresses brought them. Ive got a promise of a
rented Piper Cub. Ill have it any day now and well
go sightseeing. First free time we have. Cissy, too.
Be careful, Captain Jordan warned.
How is Cissy? Dean asked.
Oh, Cissys fine, thanks. She told me on the
phone that Steve is off to Detroit soon and shes still
wearing my shoes and has bought a beautiful
parrotall in one breath, like that. Vicki grinned.
Shes longing to go flying with us, when we get the
chance.
No free time presented itself. But Vicki realized
her wish for a longer stopover. The American team
was transferred to the brief Acapulco runs. This was
only an hour or so by air from Mexico City, in the
center of the peninsula, due west across the
mountains to the Pacific. A dozen planes a day
91

shuttled back and forth, so the crews had a little time


between flights to go from the airport into town, or
to sit on the beach. Vicki all but wept for a swim in
the warm blue Pacific, ringed by mountains, but
there never was enough time. She envied her
passengers, lighthearted vacationists.
If only I could be stationed here! she moaned.
Stay here overnight, or for a day or two!
Captain Jordan looked at her sympathetically.
Ill see what I can do. Wouldnt mind being based
here myself.
It was on one of these runs that an approaching
storm forced them off their course. They had passed
the level plateaus leading out of Mexico City and
were soaring over miles of mountains, nearing the
sea. At that point Vicki noticed Captain Jordan
swerving. The usual landmarks, notably the redroofed town of Taxco perched on its mountain peak,
did not come into sight. None of the passengers
noticed anything unusual. Vicki went up forward
into the pilots cabin. Dean was studying a map,
which was his hobby.
Whats up? she asked.
We are, Captain Jordan said, but in the wrong
place.
See that thunderhead? Dean said, pointing to a
towering mass of white cloud that looked like a
mountain of whipped cream. Well have to go
92

around it. It looks good enough to eat. But if we got


inside it, wed be tossed around like sand in a
cement mixer. The air currents in it might actually
tear the plane apart.
Well, then? Vicki balanced herself with a hand
on either of the pilots two leather chairs. She leaned
over Deans shoulder to look at the map he held.
Now look down, Dean said.
Vicki looked. Below them were mountains,
winding highways cut into the cliffs, deep wedges of
valleys. Suddenly she saw what Dean meant. This
area was not indicated in detail on the map.
And theres a village! she exclaimed.
The village did not appear on the map, either.
True, i it was small and primitive-seeming, from this
height and speed, but the map showed other villages.
Vicki fished a pencil from her pocket and made an
X on Deans map to indicate this village. It had
already disappeared beneath them, as they flew on.
Tom Jordan glanced at his instruments. Howre
we doing, Dean?
Everything was in good order. Captain Jordan
swerved the plane once more. They were soon back
on course and arrived without incident in Acapulco
some minutes later.
The unknown village captured Vickis
imagination. She tried asking coworkers about it.
Juan Arroyo said, Its probably just another
93

obscure Indian settlement. There are hundreds of


them. Cant indicate all of them. Why? Amusement
danced in his great, soft, dark eyes. Theres not
very much to see in those places, he told Vicki,
seeing her disappointment.
Nevertheless, Vickis mild interest persisted.
Dean had obtained the rented Piper Cub by now.
Their first, precious stretch of several free days was
due. Vicki suggested that for a lark they fly back to
that village and come down and explore.
One destination is as good as another, Dean
replied. All right, well do it. Call up Cissy.
When Vicki telephoned her cousin and invited
her to go along, Cissy exclaimed:
Id love to go! I even have a new hat for the
tripblack straw with cherries. When? Tomorrow?
Yes, tomorrow, Vicki laughed.
Its a date!

94

CHAPTER VI

The Indian Village

Next day at their hotel, Cissy showed up promptly,


looking browner and plumper and more eager than
ever. Off went the two girls and Dean to the airport,
where the rented Piper Cub waited.
Oh, no, Vicki groaned when she saw it on the
field.
This plane was not only very little but battered
from long use. Despite its brave new coat of yellow
paint, it still resembled those model craft small boys
glue together. Cissy and Dean thought it was fine.
Vicki looked wistfully at the shining silver
streamliners. But she crawled in behind Dean and
squeezed into the second seat along with Cissy.
Dean warmed up the small engine.
Youre navigator, Vic, Dean said over his
shoulder.
Aye, aye, sir.
What am I? Cissy called.
Youre assistant navigator, Vicki said. The two
95

girls spread Deans map of the other day, with


Vickis conspicuous X on it, across their four
huddled knees. The plane vibrated as it accumulated
power and the cherries on Cissys new hat did a
small dance of their own. Off they rolled into the
grass, narrowly missing a cow who was nearly as
big as their Cub. Then up they went over the
workers huts, the hangars, then high over the farflung white city.
Here, Vic, Dean called. Hold my camera, will
you?
He handed back his camera. It was not a
particularly fine or valuable one, but Dean was fond
of it. Take good care of it, he admonished her.
The flight went swiftly, probably because their
thoughts raced ahead to their destination. Dean
circled and took a careful look at the terrain before
coming down into the valley, for it was very narrow
and deep. From the air it looked like a mere slit
between steep mountains. Dean circled again and
again, then swooped toward an open space on the
floor of the valley. Vicki held her breath. They came
down with a bounce.
They climbed out of the plane. They had landed
near the edge of the unknown village but there was
not a sound, not a soul in sight. Far up the
mountainside, they saw a peasant in the usual white
pajama-like suit, and his burro, plodding down the
96

sheer rock at a steep angle.


Its a wonder they dont fall on their noses,
Dean said, taking his camera from Vicki. Where is
everyone in the village?
Vicki listened: the hush was profound. Maybe
theyre hiding. Our plane may have frightened
them.
Cissy said unexpectedly, Theyre afraid of us,
not the plane, and theyre hiding, all right. She
started wading through deep grass toward the
village. The thing to do is find the leader. I havent
lived in Mexico for two years for nothing. Come
on!
The village, protected by trees and tall cactus
fence, was roughly circular in plan. The houses were
low, windowless, adobe squares, and could not have
contained more than one or two rooms. Along the
dirt footpaths, a flock of turkeys sauntered. Flowers
and shrubs were planted everywherein pots, cans,
hollow stones, tree stumps, hanging on a fence of
dead volcanic lava. The stillness was uncanny.
Ground corn lay on flat stones beside an open but
smokeless fire. Wet garments had been abandoned
beside a stream.
Go into the square, Cissy directed and boldly
wiggled her plump self through an opening in the
cactus fence. Vicki and Dean uneasily followed her.
I dont care much for this, Dean muttered.
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This center of the village was not a square or


plaza, merely an open spot whereCissy
explainedthe church, government hall, and the
village store stood. There was also a tiny caf, where
a game of dominoes had been interrupted. These
buildings, too, were of clay, with crude porches.
Suddenly on the church porch appeared a tall,
brown man resplendent in magenta shirt, white
pajamas, a charro, and a sombrero winking with
silver embroidery. He stood motionless, with
unblinking dignity, staring at the three intruders.
Vicki was distinctly scared. All three of them halted
and stood still in the dust and hot sun.
The man said something in a strange tongue. It
was Aztec, a language fifteen centuries old, as old as
the village itself. He seemed imperious but not
threatening. They shook their heads, shrugged their
shoulders, held out their hands to signify they did
not understand.
The man demanded in Spanish, Who are you
and why have you come here?
Dean nudged Vicki to reply. Cissy on her other
side whispered, You talk, Vicki. I honestly have
such a terrible accent that I cant make myself
understood half the time. That mans the leading
citizen, all right. Vicki saw a face peer out furtively
from the church door. She opened her mouth to
reply, forgot whatever Spanish she knew, and didnt
98

know what to reply anyway. Then to her amazement


she heard her own voice saying, quaveringly but
with ceremonious courtesy:
We saw your flowering village from our airplane
and came to admire it. She recalled what Steve had
said at Xochimilco of Indian pleasure in trading.
We have come to buy in your market place.
Have you come far?
We have come many miles.
From whence do you come?
Vicki could not guess at the leaders reason for
asking. She replied, We come from Mexico City.
We do not wish to intrude. We will leave at once if
it is the wish of your village.
The hard glint in the mans black eyes flickered
out. His eyes still were implacable as the mountain
rock but on his blunt face a faint, wry smile began to
spread.
You are welcome, he said. He half bowed to
Cissy and Dean so that they, too, should understand.
You are Americans? I thought so.
He clapped his hands, twice, loudly. At this signal
the village came back to life. High-cheekboned
women, in long black draperies and barefoot, crept
inquisitively out of the huts. Ragged, silent children
followed them. Stocky men, strongly built, with
calloused hands and patient eyes filed out of the
various adobe huts. Vicki was surprised at how
99

small these people were, with straight black heavy


hair and delicate hands and feet. Even the burros,
driven from around the wall and saddled with a
meager sheaf of grain or some brightly colored
woven stuff, were the tiniest of donkeys.
Relief was chiefly what Vicki felt. Beside her,
Cissy and Dean breathed more or less easily once
more. The smiles of all three had the fixity of
granite.
The leaders smile had broadened. He descended
from the porch, stepped up to Dean, and held out his
hand. Dean, weak with relief, grabbed it and wrung
it. Two more gaudily dressed men followed the
leader and then came, in a long queue, the rest of the
village, about sixty people. They all wanted to shake
the strangers hands, beaming and frankly curious
and talking incomprehensible Aztec. Only one or
two men could speak a little Spanish. The dazed
receiving line of three smiled and pumped hands
until they were aching and perspiring. A babel
swelled to a cry.
The leader announced in Spanish, addressing
Vicki:
The village wishes you to be guests of honor at a
feast.
Cissy muttered to Vicki that the feast, with its
formal ceremonies, would last for days.
Vicki stammered out their thanks in the politest
100

phrases she could think of. But she saw that the
Indians were desperately poor. Their corn and
chilies were sickly, for you cannot plow a stone
mountain; their livestock was small, wiry, and gaunt
like themselves. Even their pottery, which
apparently was the villages staple in trade with
other Indian villages, was made only of the yellow
clayey earth. Vicki suddenly realized how much of
Mexico was barren mountain or unhealthy jungle,
and would not yield a good living no matter how
hard people worked. So this was why she had seen
only very rich or very poor in Mexico! It dawned on
her why the government, in Mexico City on the
fertile plateaus, was sending tractors and fertilizers
and teachers to these half-forgotten mountain
fastnesses. A bitter, unending struggle with a hard
land had kept the Indians from advancing, kept them
poverty-stricken and primitive. There was not
enough food herewhy, she had no right to accept
their invitation to a feast!
The Indians with typical reserve did not press.
Instead, the leader invited the three visitors to
inspect the church, a simple oblong hut of which
they all seemed very proud.
Dean hesitated on the porch step. Vic, ask if we
may take pictures.
Vicki relayed the question to the leader in
Spanish. He looked at her disapprovingly, but after
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some hesitation, said:


What do you want to take pictures for?
Whywhyfor a souvenir.
That is foolish.
Feeling somewhat dampened and self-conscious,
Vicki started to relay this to Dean when the leader
interrupted her.
Very well, if it is an American custom, you may
take pictures.
Oh, thank you! Vicki said. May we take one
of you?
The Indian in the glittering garments stiffened. It
is a matter of principle. No pictures of the leader. I
am sorry.
Dean and Cissy had gathered enough from the
leaders tone to realize that he was not exhibiting
much enthusiasm for the idea. Dean took shots of
the church, then of the two girls standing before the
church. Then Vicki took one of the square. Cissy
snapped Vicki and Dean together, and handed the
camera back to the pilot. But all three almost
regretted now having asked to take pictures in the
first place, as the leader waited with some
impatience to show them into the church.
Once inside, Vicki blinked disbelievingly in the
dimness of the adobe church. There was a lovely
Madonna, with flowers and lighted candles before
her, as Vicki had seen in the cathedrals. But also to
102

be seen here was a weird, red-and-gold figure. It


was, the leader said reluctantly, the Double-Rabbit,
an Aztec god. The leader turned away, displeased,
and seemed to want I hem to leave the church.
I cant believe it! Vicki puzzled.
What? Cissy whispered. The Aztec god?
Nothat.
Vicki nodded her head in the opposite direction.
On a shadowed altar gleamed a large chalice of pure
gold. It was not Indian but of old Spanish design.
The three of them gazed at it in wonder. A strange
thing to find in a poor, obscure, Indian village . . .
Where did your village get this beautiful
chalice? Vicki inquired of the leader.
His eyes glinted. One of our sons who left the
village and grew rich presented it in gratitude for his
good fortune.
It was possible. The dull, rich gleam of the golden
bowl winked at Vicki, as if it held another and older
story. She glanced at the reverent faces of the
Indians kneeling in the church around her. They
were innocent and simple people. It was their leader
who seemed a wiser and worldlier man than one
would have expected to find in this place.
At this point, Cissy dropped her purse on the
floor. It fell open and its contentsat least two
dozen small articlesflew helter-skelter. The
Indians crowding the church door let out a shout:
103

they wanted to trade. Cissy made a grab for her


things, and Dean, laughing, went to her rescue, first
setting down his camera on a church table. Vicki
helped too, but the Indians, laughing and eager,
hurried the three Americans out into the square, to
trade. The leader gravely explained that few
manufactured articles were seen in this forgotten
valley.
They bought pottery from the Indians, as a
gesture of friendliness. It was a lengthy, lively
ceremony. The pottery was made of the orangeyyellow clay around this village, and had a black,
painted design like arrowheads. One man, who
spoke Spanish, told Vicki that this pottery was the
villages trade-mark.
The villagers did not want money in exchange.
They wanted things. Vicki and Cissy obligingly
dumped the contents of their purses and Dean
emptied his pockets. The Indians cried out in
delight, and clamored for treasures seldom seen in
these parts: two small mirrors, a lipstick, face
powder, pocket combs, Deans magnifying glass for
map reading, sunglasses, pencils. The greatest
excitement was caused by American cigarettes and
chewing gum. These were broken into small
portions and shared.
An Indian woman tugged at Vickis elbow,
wheedling, pointing into Vickis purse.
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My reading glasses? No, I need those. Then,


remembering the woman did not understand, Vicki
shook her head. But here is something else. Vicki
handed her a new toothbrush wrapped in cellophane
which she had purchased and forgotten to take out of
her purse.
Everyone crowded around to see the toothbrush.
The leader in his magenta shirt and embroidered
sombrero stalked over. What is it for?But why
brush teeth, what for?How do you brush?
Vicki showed them all, with gestures. She had
never felt so topsy-turvy. Cissy, meanwhile, was
good-naturedly yielding up her cherry-trimmed hat
to two pleading men, in trade for a clay DoubleRabbit and a length of coarse fabric. Dean, in a knot
of laughing, clamoring women, clung for dear life to
his fountain pen.
Vic, lets get out of here or well lose our shirts!
Shrewdest traders I ever saw! Only wish we had
tools or machinery to give emlook over there in
the cattle path, theyre hauling rock with their bare
hands.
It was not easy to get away, but they left with the
Indians as many objects of wonder as they could.
The entire village accompanied them to the plane.
Dean had to shoo them away, for the men poked into
the Cubs cockpit controls and the children climbed
around the yellow wings. Only the leader sauntered
105

at the edge of the crowd, unimpressed.


Airplanes are strange to your people? Vicki
said to him politely, to counteract Deans shouts of
Go away!
They often see and hear airplanes like great
birds overhead. This is the first time they see such a
bird on the ground, the leader said.
You say they, not we. You yourself are
familiar with planes? Vicki inquired. She was not
really curious, she said it to pay the leader a
compliment due his office and his courtesy to three
intruders.
His change of expression startled her. The Indian
leader hesitated, evading reply. Secretiveness
struggled in his face with a look of vanity. Vanity
won. He said condescendingly, I am not so simple
as my people. What he meant to imply, Vicki could
n imagine. Perhaps she never could guess what went
on in an Indian mind.
Dean had climbed into the cockpit and was
calling to her.
Get the head guy to clear this area, so we can
take off! Tell em safest to go back into the village!
It took the leader several minutes to convince the
villagers. In silence they moved back from the
plane. Cissy and Vicki climbed in. They waved but
no one waved in reply. The black-draped figures
stood motionless. Their faces, though friendly, were
106

stolid.
Winds changed. Were going to have some
trouble getting out! Ill have to try a full stall takeoff! Dean shouted over the engines whine. This
gorge is so darn narrow!
He drove the plane along the clay ground to the
end of the open space, turned it into the wind and
locked his brakes. Then he gunned his motor till the
little plane shuddered and its tail rose from the
ground. Before Vicki quite knew what was
happening they were in the air. For a moment it
seemed as if they would stall. The brink of the gorge
came closer and closer. Vicki shut her eyes for an
instant. They were going to crash. Dean put the
planes nose down sharply. No, they might manage
to clear the edge of the cliff. Vicki felt the impact as
a tall shrub brushed the plane. Then, miraculously,
they were rising. They had made it!
Was that dangerous? Cissy yelled in Vickis
ear.
Yes.
It certainly was exciting, though!
She did not want to tell Cissy they might have
crashed. Dean circled back over the valley. Vicki
wiped her forehead with the back of her hand and
would not look at Cissy.
They joked in their relief. The flying now was
smooth and easy, safely above the mountaintops.
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Presently they fell to debating about the golden


chalice. It was Spanish, no doubt about that. Dont
you think the leader was holding back something?
Vicki asked uncertainly.
No. Why?
Hewell, he seemed awfully worldly for such a
backwoods place.
You mean he held back about the chalice? He
did explain about the chalice.
Vicki was vaguely dissatisfied, but could not put
her feelings into satisfactory words. That leader was
a vain one, a shrewd one . . .
Doggone! said Dean suddenly. Vic, have you
got my camera?
Why, no.
You had it last, didnt you?
No, dont you remember, Cissy snapped you and
me together beside the church. Then she gave the
camera back to you.
Whats the argument? Cissy shouted. Vicki told
her. Dean had it in the church, Cissy said. I bet
he left it there.
Vicki repeated this to Dean. He thought a minute
and shook his head in annoyance. I guess shes
right, he said at last. I think I put it down when I
was helping Cissy pick up her stuff. Doggone.
Vicki sensed the sharpness of Deans irritation. It
was not that the camera was particularly valuable
108

but he hated being careless.


Its easy enough to remedy, she called
soothingly. Just turn around and go back.
No answer came from Dean. After a few seconds,
he said:
Cant. The wind is all wrong now. Its too
dangerous. Didnt we just have a hard enough time
getting out of that valley?
Well go back to that village another time, then,
Vicki called. Never mind, Dean. Next time we have
a day off well go back for your camera.
If the Indians dont trade it in first, he
grumbled.
Cissy said she did not think the leader would
trade in the camera. He seemed a pretty responsible
sort. Dont you think so, Dean?
I guess the villagers wont be mean enough to
sell it, Dean admitted, and he sounded relieved.
All right, well go back. Someday.
Vicki sighed; she was relieved, too. It would
really be fun to go back to that Indian village
sometime. This day had been full of the excitement
of discovery. She even had a proprietary feeling
about the village in the unknown valley.
Suddenly Cissy cried out. Theres the Sleeping
Lady!
Vicki and Dean turned their heads to look where
Cissy pointed. The Sleeping Lady was a long, snow109

covered, blue-hazed stretch of volcano top, whose


formation resembled a woman lying on her back, her
head thrown back and hair streaming. At her feet, at
a little distance, rose the conical peak of
Popocatepetl.
Popothats the Sleeping Ladys lover, legend
says. There was affection in Cissys voice. The
Sleeping Lady and the Young Man.
It was beautiful and somehow touching. The
plane veered, and they flew past the two lovers. As
they neared the airport, Vicki turned to look back on
them. Even older than the Indians she had seen,
they, too, possessed secrets.

110

CHAPTER VII

New Friends

Captain Jordan had succeeded. The airline was


assigning the American crew to a new, longer run:
the five-hour flight from Acapulco south and
slightly inland to Oaxaca, and the four-hour flight
from Acapulco north and slightly inland to Uruapan.
It meant their home base from now on would be
Acapulco, that tropical paradise on the Pacific.
Vicki, Dean, and Tom Jordan were all very happy
about it. Even the hotel arrangements had been
made, at all three terminal points. At home base in
Acapulco, accommodations were crowded, and it
had been impossible to find space for the crew in
one hotel. The pilots would go to the Papagayo, or
Parrot, while Vicki had reservations at the Monte
Azulthe Blue Mountain.
They flew into Acapulco from Mexico City with
their luggage, early one bright blue morning. The
brief flight, as passengers, was a joy ride. Best of all,
they were to have this week end off. Vicki looked
111

down with a vacationers eyes, rather than a


stewardesss, as their plane darted in and out
between mountain peaks, then circled the sparkling
blue bay before landing.
I feel like Im really seeing Acapulco for the
first time! she exclaimed lightheartedly. What a
glorious blue!
Sky, water, mountaintops were all clear hot tones
of blue: ceruleanrobins eggbright sapphire sea
with a long beading of white surfgleams of
turquoise between sculptured cloudsunderdrifts of
violet on the hillsides. Houses of white and pink
adobe perched gaily on the mountain crests. At the
base of the hills, facing on the palm-lined beach,
was the heart of town. Acapulco was like a handful
of jewels, all light and color.
Vicki and her pilots did not linger at the grassy
airport. Cars from the various hotels were waiting at
the rose-laden pergola which served as airport
station. Vicki climbed into the car marked Monte
Azul.
Well telephone you shortly, Captain Jordan
said, directing her luggage into the car, to make
sure you get settled all right in your hotel. Whew!
The big pilot peeled off his jacket and put on his
sunglasses.
See you pretty soon, Dean said. He was lobster
pink, but Vicki thrived in the tropical sun. They
112

were at the equator. Im melted, Dean groaned.


Well go swimming and cool off, she promised
him. Its early enough to get in a morning swim.
He nodded and her car started off. The road took
them along the afternoon beach, Los Hornos, which
curved like arms embracing the water. On the other
side of the road, amid gardens, stood villas and
broad-porched hotels. Palm trees, flowers, white
sand, and brilliant heat suffused this place. At every
turn of the car Vicki saw blue mountains, blue
water, blue sky.
The hotel car drove in and through the dusty,
white-clay town. It was crowded with Indian traders
carrying baskets on their heads, loaded burros
trotting along under the prodding stick, brown
babies and flowers and shops with huge paper signs
and tourists in American sports clothes looking out
of place here.
But when their car started up a steep, winding
street, the engine stalled. The Mexican driver urged
it forward. Up another hill they drove, then started to
climb up sheer mountainside. The car skidded
backwards, clung, slipped.
Whats wrong? Vicki called to the driver.
The hotel car is old, there is something wrong.
Whats wrong?
With the brakes, he said negligently. But do
not worry. This car will carry you to heaven!
113

Yes, to heaven dead or alive, Vicki thought. Her


heart was in her mouth as the car slidingly struggled
up steep, spiral mountain roads. But it was worth
itwhat a view and what a breeze! At the very top
of this mountain clung the Hotel Monte Azul, a
terraced Spanish villa. Vicki stood on its courtyard
steps, entranced.
Good morning, Miss Barr, welcome to Blue
Mountain. Would you like some breakfast?
A handsome, black-eyed young Latin in white
slacks and white sports shirt came strolling over to
her, smiling in the sun. He was a very poised,
elegant, and agreeable young man.
Im Julio Perez, he said in perfect English,
manager of this hotel. Miguel will take your
luggageMike! Cuarto dos. I hope youll enjoy
your stay here.
I know I will, Mr. Perez, Vicki said, glancing
around in delight. The hotel was a low one-story
structure, of white clay and red tile roofs, built two
steps up, here, and six steps down, there, as the
rolling mountain dictated. Roman arches and
colonnades and plazas connected the wings.
Overlooking the mountains and sea were several
open terraces, with flower boxes, tables, chairs, and
enormous garden umbrellas. On a roofed, windswept terrace, the other guests were having
breakfast. Except for the bedrooms, in a row along
114

the colonnade, every mosaic-tiled room in the


Monte Azul was open to sea and sky and miles-long
blue view.
Its only nine-thirty, Miss Barr, said Mr. Perez
hospitably. Come and have some breakfast.
He escorted her to a vacant table drenched in sun
and wind, smiled, and wandered away among the
other tables to his desk. Vicki settled into her straw
chair with a sigh of rapture and stole a glance at the
other guests. They were both Americans and
Mexicans, in bright garments; several families had
their children with them.
Buenos das, seorita.
It was the waiter, bringing her orange juice, red
banana, and papaya. Vicki tasted the fruits in
wonder. But when the waiter returned bringing steak
with raw Spanish onion and tomatoes, and thick
toast and coffee, Vicki buckled down and ate in real
earnest.
Its a good thing I have an appetite like a
growing boy, she chuckled to herself. Even the
waiter looked slightly amazed at all this frailseeming little blonde girl could consume.
Around her, everyone was leaving. Mr. Perez
stopped at her table to explain:
Everyones going swimming, at the morning
beach, La Caleta and Caletilla. Arent you going,
too? Oh! His black eyes sparkled. Something for
115

you.
He strolled over to a phonograph and put on an
ancient American jazz record.
Vicki nodded her thanks. He was being very
agreeable, as was his job. But she wished Mr. Perez
would be just a shade less charming. Still, Latin
elegance was proverbial. And being agreeable to the
guests was part of his job . . .
I wont be around the hotel much, between runs,
or seeing much of the hotel manager, anyway,
Vicki supposed. She yawned, drowsy from the food
and the heat. This is a lazy, languorous sort of
place.
She watched Mr. Perez idly stretched in a terrace
chair, under a palm, smoking a cigarette and sipping
coffee from a demitasse. He certainly fitted in with
this climate.
Captain Jordan telephoned her and the three
arranged to meet for a swim. The narrow, dazzling
white beach blossomed with palm trees and bright
umbrellas, mountains hulking right behind them.
Barefoot boys and girls ran up and down crying their
wares: coconuts, shrimp, milk, chocolate,
pineapples.
Vicki and Dean immediately splashed into the
heavenly blue Pacific. It was calm, heavy water, not
very salty. Vicki, swimming underwater with her
eyes open, saw starfish and a baby octopus asleep on
116

the sandy sea bottom. Afterwards, she and Dean sat


on the sand in the shade, shivering but fearing a
blazing sunburn.
Have some of my coconut, Tom Jordan invited
them. He was too lazy to swim.
A roguish little boy brought over a big brown
coconut, hollowed out, full of liquid, and with a
straw stuck in it. He explained, Vicki translating,
that after drinking the coconut milk, you split open
the cracked nut and ate the meat. It took Captain
Jordan a full hour to juggle with it, while Vicki and
Dean ran in and out of the water until they were
tired. Throwing themselves down on the sand, they
noticed, traced there, a heart enclosing the words:
Eugenio quiere Maria.
Look, said Dean, and with his finger he traced:
Dean quiere Victoria. Hows that, huh?
Now you look, said Vicki. She smoothed sand
over part of what he had printed and rewrote: Dean
quiere aeroplanos. Isnt that the truth, Captain
Jordan?
But Tom Jordan was fast asleep.
That afternoon the three did not meet, but rested
at their hotels. Vicki wanted nothing better than to
recline in a deep chair on the terrace, and gaze out
on mountains and sea. There were plenty of fishing
boats and private planes to watch.
A Mexican girl quietly took one of the reclining
117

chairs near Vickia girl scarcely as old, and not


quite as tall, as herself. She had the biggest,
brownest, gentlest eyes Vicki had ever seen. They
seemed to fill her whole shy little face. Her lacy
black dress and her piled-up, silky, black hair
seemed to Vicki too grown-up a style for this small,
slight girl. Her dignified air had a childlike appeal
and impulsively Vicki smiled at her.
The Mexican girl smiled back. I am Seora
Vallejo, she said to Vicki in halting English. This
is my hotel. I hope it pleases you.
It pleases me very much, Vicki replied in
English. You say your hoteldo you own it, Mrs.
Vallejo?
Yes, seorita. My husband who is dead, this was
his hotel. He left it to me. The enormous brown
eyes looked into Vickis trustfully. The little seora
said in a rush, Is difficult to run a hotel. I am only
nineteen, only married it makes three years when my
husband died, would be married four years now. A
smile lighted up her small, grave face. She waved a
brown hand toward an Indian nurse with two very
little boys. My sons.
Vicki was astonished. Married at fifteenleft a
widow with two babies at eighteenwhy, this little
seora was only a child who had been rushed into
responsibilities before she had a chance to grow up!
Now she had this big, busy hotel to run. That was a
118

job which would tax a woman much older and more


experienced than this reed of a girl with her
wondering eyes.
I hopeplease, do you call yourself Victoria
Barr? You are the one who is hostess in airplanes?
Yes, seora.
Hello. The seora smiled at her and Vicki
smiled back. I hope you will remain here much
time. Many guests come, many go, but all are too
old for me. My family, my sister, are far distant and
cannot come often. I am happy to find here a girl of
my own age.
So she was lonely. Vicki replied she hoped they
would become friends. Wont you tell me how you
run this hotel?
The seoras eyes grew more enormous than
ever. I do not run it. I do not know how. My
husband always protected me very much and as a
result I know nothing. But by good fortune Julio
Perez is here to manage the hotel. He worked for my
husband, for three years. She sighed. For the three
years.
Mr. Perez seems very nice.
He is excellent. He manages the kitchen, the
maids, the workmen, he welcomes the guests, makes
the billswithout Julio Perez, this hotel would be
nothing. She brooded for a moment. He wishes a
hotel of his own. Naturally. He is ambitious. But
119

now! You tell me! How is it to work in the sky?


Vicki laughed and related one or two amusing
anecdotesin English, since the little seora
earnestly had been talking English. Vicki suspected
she did not understand too well, for she laughed at
the wrong places, said, More slow, please? and in
the middle of a story, confessed:
I like your shoes, I wish I had them. Such very
high heels! When I go to Mexico City, I will buy
some. What have you pretty?
The shoes my Cousin Cissy is wearing, Vicki
said ruefully.
All at once she noticed that the little seora was
looking discomfited. Vicki turned and saw
handsome Julio Perez gazing at the seora in a
proud and cynical manner. He had appeared from
around a pillar, cigarette and demitasse in hand, and
sauntered over to his desk where he seemed to be
silently laughing at them, or maybe at the world in
general, as if he had some secret that made him
scornful of other people. He made Vicki feel
uncomfortable, too.
Come to my room, Vicki said consolingly, and
I will show you what I have pretty.
They left the dazzling afternoon to go indoors,
into Vickis room. Seora Vallejo waited taut with
excitement as Vicki unlocked her suitcase and
opened her hatbox. Vicki surmised that the little
120

seora had few pleasures except pretty things, and


was eager as a child to try on other peoples
treasures as well as her own.
I call myself Anita, she offered timidly.
My name is Vicki. Here! Come to the mirror.
The seora stood very straight before the dresser
mirror. Vicki took out a little hat of roses, put it on
the seoras black hair, fastened pearls around her
slender brown throat, clipped gold flower earrings to
her ears. The little seora pirouetted in front of the
mirror, sighing with pleasure:
Is so lovely! And to you, I will show the lace.
Oh, I love lace! You, too?
This was a real hobby they had in common. The
two girls discussed lace for a long time. Seora
Vallejo promised to show Vicki the various laces
she had bought or been given or made, the lace
Vicki could see in museums, and her lacemaking
needles and hoop. She wished to do that some other
day, not now, lest Mr. Perez reprove her for
intruding on a guest. She seemed a little frightened
or in awe of her hotel manager. The little seora
took her leave, with many thanks to her new friend.
Vicki wandered out on the terrace. The sun had
blazingly and abruptly set. Suddenly day faded and
the moon was shining out, streaming silver light
over the sea at Vickis feet, while the west was still
a shower of gold. Mr. Perez came up softly. They
121

stood leaning on the terrace railing.


Do you like our town? he asked.
It isthere are no words for it.
He brushed his hand against a jasmine bush
growing at Vickis shoulder. Have you seen much
of Mexico? His tone was casual, but Vicki thought
the man was looking at her in rather a peculiar
wayalmost as if he had seen her somewhere
before and wanted to mention the fact. There was
somethingwell, knowingin his manner. But
Vicki dismissed this and murmured a polite reply. It
was time to go back to her room and shower and
change out of this sports dress into something nicer
for dinner. Her blue dress? Or the white
Perhaps you are much interested in the way our
people live? the smooth voice went on, but with
something more than politeness in it now.
What? Vicki looked suddenly at Julio Perezs
white, dark-eyed face, dim in the dusk. Why, yes,
of course. What was the man getting at? Or did he
really mean anything by the question?
You North Americans often have a great
curiosity, Perez said lightly. It is a quality I admire
as a rule, Miss Barr. How would you like to take the
moonlight walk to La Quebrada with Seora Vallejo
and me? After dinner?
The invitation seemed so cordial and friendly that
Vicki suddenly felt a little foolish. She was just
122

imagining things.
Id love a walk, thanks. Heavens, dinner! I
havent changed yet and I see the other guests
already coming out!
Laughing, she started hastily across the terrace
for the plaza, heading back to her room. Julio Perez
switched on lights, so she could find her footing. He
called gaily:
I think well make a good threesome!

123

CHAPTER VIII

Warning

It was glorious on the reach next morning. Vicki lay


stretched out in a deck chair, between swims, while
Dean splashed in the blue water. The row of manycolored umbrellas, the border of palm trees and
flowers and rocks, the festive crowd of bathers,
made a gay pageant.
Vicki closed her eyes against the hot sun,
remembering last nights moonlight stroll, to jagged
cliffs where the Pacific foamed far below. That, too,
had been a romantic place, and the seora and Perez
had been good company. Yet, Vicki realized now, in
broad daylight, that there had been something
disturbing in their evening walk.
She thought over their conversation. With
friendly questions, Perez had led her to talk at
length. She had told quite a few things about herself,
her work, what she wanted to do and see in Mexico.
Perez certainly did encourage me to talk. Thats
it, he was too interested . . . Silly! Mr. Perez was
124

merely being polite to a tourist. Im imagining


things.
Dean came running up just then, dripping and
grinning.
The water certainly is wonderful today! Arent
you going in again, Vic?
I should say so! You know I love to swimIm
practically a fish. She stiffened her arms at her
sides and flapped her hands like fins.
Dean laughed and sat down in the sand beside her
chair. You dont look serious enough for a fish.
You know that solemn expression a fish has.
Vicki pulled her mouth down at the corners and
they both laughed.
Say, Vic, Dean said, changing the subject
suddenly, I think Ill go back soon and get my
camera. But you dont have to come along unless
you want to, he teased her.
Vicki sprinkled a little sand on him. So you
think you can leave me behind. Well, Mr. Fletcher,
now that I know your true nature, you neednt think
that well ever be friends again. Give me back that
stick of chewing gum I lent you a week ago
Thursday.
They chuckled together. Cissy would love to be
in on this, wouldnt she? Dean said. That
adventurer!
Cant we invite Cissy to come along? Vicki
125

asked. The one thing I miss in Mexico is having


another girl for company.
Invite Cissy by all means. Dont know just how
soon we can go back to that village, though.
As usual, they had a heavy schedule of
commercial flights. There was small prospect of free
time. Besides, Deans rented Piper Cub was in
Mexico City. He had lent it to his fellow pilot, Juan
Arroyo, for a few days.
I know what! Vicki said. She tugged at a
silvery blonde strand of hair, thinking. Ask Juan to
fly the Cub over here, as soon as he has some free
time. Its only an hours flight. And he can easily get
a lift back on one of Federals planes.
Sold. You get in touch with Cissy.
Back atop her mountain, at the Monte Azul, Vicki
considered telephoning Cissy long-distance. It
would settle their plans more quickly than a letter
could, and besides Vicki wanted a visit with her
irrepressible cousin. She wandered out to the
terraces, where Julio Perez was working at his desk.
The telephones were all on his counter. Vicki
wanted the Mexico City telephone book to verify
Cissys number.
Hello, Miss Barr.
Perez went on searching in a file drawer of his
desk, his back to Vicki. Since he seemed so busy,
and since the Mexico City telephone book was lying
126

right there on his desk, Vicki reached over and


picked up the directory. Snapshots were lying
underneath it; she glanced at them automatically.
Why, the pictures seemed to be of herself! Yes, they
wereherself and Cissy standing before the church
in the Indian village! Vicki started and exclaimed in
astonishment.
Whats the matter, Miss Barr? Julio Perez
turned and in one glance saw what she had
discovered. His dark face flushed. In a swift,
disconcerted movement, his hands moved toward
the snapshots, but then he coolly checked himself.
Miss Barr, do you know anything about these
photographs?
I? No! Ive never even seen them before. I cant
imagine how they reached your desk!
Neither can I. I hoped youd know because this
whole thing is a mystery to me. A guest gave me a
roll of films to be developed and then checked out
without paying for them. I had to stand the expense
myself, Perez said in chagrin. He looked at Vicki
almost accusingly. Are you sure you know nothing
about it? After all, the pictures are of you.
Vicki stood there hardly knowing what to say.
Perezs manner made her feel awkward and half
guiltyhe was so suave and certainmade her feel
almost as if she did have a friend who had left
without paying for the films.
127

But honestly, Mr. Perez, I dont know the first


thing about it!
She was flabbergasted, bewildered, annoyed, and
scared, all in the same instant.
Perez gave her a look. Then he sighed and
shrugged. The pictures are of you. And youre
looking straight into the camera. Surely you must
know where and when these snapshots were taken.
Why, naturally I know! She blurted out that
she, Dean, and Cissy had flown to the Indian village,
for a lark, and had found the place so interesting that
they had wanted pictures. At this, Perezs irritation
died down and he nodded.
Yes, those villages really are picturesque. In
some of them, you can see some unusual things.
We did in this one! Vicki described the golden
chalice. That was an unusual treasure to find in a
poor little village, wasnt it? Perez seemed
genuinely interested. Encouraged, Vicki went on,
And I was even more impressed with the village
leader. He seemed such aa strong and educated
person to find in that remote spot.
Well, Im glad you enjoyed your sight-seeing
jaunt, Miss Barr. Perez picked up the snapshots and
studied them. Id like to give you these, but Id
better wait awhile to see if that guest writes and asks
for them. These pictures were made with a nice
camera. Is it yours? May I see it sometime? Im
128

something of a photography fan myself.


Vicki explained that the camera belonged to her
copilot, Dean Fletcher, and that he had left it behind
in the Indian village.
Oh, what a shame!
But were going back for it, Vicki said. She
smiled. All three of us, I guess. For another lark.
Julio Perez raised his eyebrows. He turned back
to his desk, saying, Now what can I do for you,
Miss Barr? I see you have the Mexico City
telephone book theredid you want to make a longdistance call?
His abrupt change of manner threw Vicki off
balance. She mumbled, Yesno On second
thought, I guess Ill write. May I have some
stationery and stamps, please?
Some instinct warned her not to let Perez listen to
anything she had to say. She went back to her room
to write Cissy, and despite the heat, closed the door.
Distrust of Perez rose up in her. Why, just now, he
had again, as on last evenings stroll, pumped her for
informationall about the Indian village this time,
and their intention to return. In fact, the whole
conversation with him just now had been very
strange!
Then all at once Vicki recalled another strange
conversationthat
overheard
telephone
conversation. That man who had the room next to
129

hers in the Mexico City hotelhis voice had carried


through the open doors and windows and patio He
had cabled his embassy in another country about
some
wanted
personssomething
about
smugglingabout locating a key man
Good heavens! The place he mentioned was
Acapulco! Here!
Vicki stood stock-still before the writing desk,
hands pressed to her cheeks. Why was she
remembering this now? How could it possibly have
any connection with Perez? No, she was letting her
imagination run away with her just because Perez
had behaved so oddly about the snapshots.
But how did those photographs get developed and
get to Perezs desk? The last Vicki knew of those
pictures, they had been undeveloped film, in the
camera which Dean had left behind in the Indian
village. Had the Indians traded the camera to some
tourist, then? (Did any of them ever get to markets
which tourists frequented, for that matter?) But if so,
why had the supposed tourist bothered to have the
films developed? It didnt make sense. Vicki
remained puzzled and scaredscared of Perez.
Ill write the whole astonishing story to Cissy.
She and Steve might know better what to make of it
than I do. Besides, writing it out will help to
straighten it out in my own mind.
She sat down at the desk beside her bed and
130

worked for a long time on the letter to Cissy. She


even told Cissy about the overheard telephone
conversation in the Mexico City hotel, remarking,
Odd things certainly do seem to happen in this
country.
By the time the letter was finished, and the
envelope sealed, Vicki was over her scare about
Perez. But she knew now, definitely, that there was
something strange about that young man. Vicki
determined to avoid him as much as she could.
But she was equally determined to return to the
Indian village and find out what had happened to
Deans camera. It was possible that the leader had
traded it to a tourist, but in her heart Vicki did not
believe it.
The clue to this whole mysterious business is
back in that Indian village!
Vicki tried to put these matters out of her mind in
the next few days. She had her work to attend to.
The two commercial flights between Acapulco and
Oaxaca and Uruapan were sometimes run together
as one flight, making a grueling nine-hour stretch.
Then the American crew would stay overnight at
whichever terminal town the flight ended in, and rest
up for the return flight next day. Vicki never grew
tired of her local passengers with their colorful
cargoes. The landscape was equally exotic: seaside
lagoons, jungle, tropic coast. Oaxaca was baked dry
131

by the sun and split by earthquakes. Now and again,


when Captain Jordan and Dean flew low enough,
Vicki would catch sight of a cactus fence.
A cactus fence . . . the mark of an Indian village.
Were the villages they flew over like the one she
had visited? Vicki wondered whether any other
Indian village in all Mexico boasted a gold chalice
gracing its adobe church. A Spanish chalice, at that.
The village son who grew rich, as the leader
described him, must have gained great riches indeed,
to obtain the golden prize. How could anyone from
so poor a place acquire great wealth? Or was there
more to the story than the leader cared to reveal?
Vicki was becoming more and more sure that there
was.
She did not venture to mention the Indian village
to the little seora, although she wished there were
some Mexican with whom she could speak frankly
about this.
But, excepting this one subject, Anita Vallejo and
Vicki had become good companions. It was
accidental: they were thrown together. Other people
came and went, in a constant flux, through the
Monte Azul. But the little seora, playing with her
two children, and Vicki (between runs), leaning over
the terrace rail, were always there. Perez often
looked willing to join them, and sometimes
suggested a game of cards or a walk. But Vicki tried
132

to avoid him.
It was not too difficult to avoid Perez, for the
hotel manager was in and out of the hotel regularly,
always at the same hours, making two trips a day
down the hill into the village on hotel business. He
usually went at nine-thirty in the morning, to the
bank and the post office, and at six, to dispatch the
accumulated mail and telegrams and cables which
the guests had given him during the day, and
sometimes around the dinner hour at eight. Once or
twice he invited Vicki to drive down with him, on
these fixed trips, but she declined and generally kept
out of his way.
The few times Vicki did meet him, he greeted her
suavely. And yet she was more than ever sure that
Perezs manner was edged with some strange
meaning. Once she caught him looking at her with
narrow-eyed speculation. It was the same cool look
he had given her that time she had said they were
going to return to the Indian village.
In regard to that, disappointing news came from
Juan Arroyo. Dean had a letter from him saying he
could not get away, since his time was limited, and
anyhow the Piper Cub was out of repair. He would
try to fly it over when it was fixed and when he
could.
No word at all came from Cissy about the
proposed return trip. Vicki began to wonder why
133

Cissy did not reply. Then a postcard came from


Detroit. Cissy had gone off with her husband on one
of his business trips. Cissy must have left before
she received my letter, Vicki figured, and I guess
it wasnt forwarded.
Vicki found a chance to tell Dean about Cissys
postcard one day at the Oaxaca airport. It was just
before a flight, and pilot and stewardess were
waiting for the cargo loading to be completed.
Never mind, Dean said. Well get back to that
village yet.
Dean, I never told you about the snapshots, did
I? Guess I put it off because I hoped Id find out the
whole story to tell you. This Perez, you know
But Dean did not know Perez and his mind was
on the plane. Besides, before Vicki could get started
with the story, the loading crew called Dean away.
Meester Fletch! Meester Fletch! Por favor come
look!
They had a heavy cargo this morning, and the
loading crew wanted the pilots approval on weight
spread and distribution. The cargo apparently was
valuable: the accompanying papers showed it was
heavily insured. Vicki eyed the wooden crates with
curiosity, from the door of the passenger cabin.
Whats in them, Dean?
Oh, a variety of things. Mostly machinery and
chemicals. Stuff they dont manufacture down here
134

and have a hard time getting. Wheres the logbook?


Here you are, Dean. She handed it down to
him.
Mails aboard. All your passengers aboard?
Aye, aye, sir.
Dean signaled to Captain Jordan, who was
leaning out the cockpit window. Okay, Vic. Get
in.
She stepped back into the cabin, the passenger
agent slammed the door shut, and she saw Dean run
forward to climb up into his place beside the pilot.
The motors warmed up, they taxied, stood still at the
edge of the field ready for the take-off. Then the
ship rose into the air.
It was just a routine flight. Everything went
smoothly until they were over the mountains, flying
over a stretch higher and lonelier than most. Vicki
heard a short series of explosions which she could
not identify. Simultaneously there came a queer
creaking noise from the tail.
Hiding her concern from the alarmed passengers,
Vicki looked out a window. The wings were all
right. But the plane was bouncing, lunging, out of
balance. The pilots were flying her terribly fast. The
interphone was ringing, as passengers cried:
Stewardess! What happened?
That noise came from the ground!
Vicki spoke into the interphone, trying at the
135

same time to soothe the passengers.


Vic, came Tom Jordans voice. Did you see
anything?
No, sir.
Well, we were shot at. Tails hit. Were coming
down to fix it.
Shall I notify the passengers, sir? It was all she
dared ask, with frightened faces turned to her. The
ship had slowed its speed and was limping through
the air.
Tell em were coming down for an unscheduled
stop.
Vicki relayed this message, matter-of-factly, so as
not to alarm the passengers. To questions of Where
are we coming down? she could only reply, To an
emergency landing field. Fasten your seat belts,
please.
That was a guess but an accurate one. With
difficulty the wounded plane got down and landed
on a bare plateau where a big airlines shed and a
weather observatory stood. Three men ran out of the
shed to the plane.
Vicki knew what she had to do. She must create a
diversion. To answer the passengers questions, she
secured answers from the pilots and relayed them.
Then she hastily served coffee and forced herself to
talk cheerfully of everyday things, over pounding
noises from the tail.
136

Dean poked his head in the cabin and motioned to


Vicki. He helped her hop down to the ground. They
walked the length of the silver airliner back to the
tail. The tail was tied in place with a rope.
Good heavens! Vicki gasped.
Deans lean face was grim. Yep. All they can
give us here is a rope. Were going to have to limp
along like this to the nearest field.
How far is that? she asked fearfully.
Half an hour. Lucky we didnt crash when they
shot at us. I think well make the field, all right.
Who shot at us?
Dean jammed his hands in his pockets. Dont
know. Keep your passengers calm. And it wouldnt
hurt to pray.
That was an anxious half hour. They flew
cautiously and came down in real peril, Vicki knew,
at a small hangar in the back country. Here the best
repair that could be done for them was to patch them
together with parts of another plane. By some
miracle they managed to make home field at
Acapulco.
The ground crew came to stare at the stricken
ship. Vicki, Dean, and Captain Jordan hurried away
to the airline offices to demand, Who shot at us, for
heavens sake? Whod shoot at a passenger plane?
The answer was bandits in search of booty, trying
to bring the plane down. They wanted the valuable
137

cargo. The three Americans were incredulous.


Theyd make a plane crashkill the passengers
and crewto get hold .of the cargo?
Maybe they wanted some person who was
aboard? Vicki asked. Two prominent men were
riding with us this morning
No, the airline official insisted, it was not a
political maneuver, nor attempted kidnaping, nor
anything so lurid. It was banditry, plain and simple.
The equivalent of your American gangsters,
Senorita Barr. Like the gangsters highjack trucks, I
guess these fellows tried to highjack your plane.
There was trouble like this once before, just once,
though, in the Yucatan.
Dean muttered that anyone could easily find out
what cargo the planes were carrying, by watching
the loading. Captain Jordan added that the lonely
mountains would make fine hiding places for any
gangs.
Our interstate police, the official said, know
these troublemakers and are on the alert for them.
We have caught two men, who may be connected
with others, maybe not. He seemed a little evasive,
perhaps unwilling to say too much. But dont
worry, he said earnestly. I dont believe you will
have trouble like this again. Naturally I will report
this matter to the police.
He stood up to indicate that the interview was
138

over.
Out in the sunny square, Captain Jordan declared
he could scarcely believe the officials explanation.
Trying to shoot down a planewhy, its
fantastic! Yes, I know, we were shot at, all right. But
if you ask me, it was some crazy idiot. Some local
fool with a bright idea and a shotgun.
Highjacking does sound like the movies, Dean
said.
Suddenly Vicki remembered the snapshots. If
you think highjacking sounds like the movies, she
said, wait till you hear this. She hastily told her
pilots about uncovering the snapshots on Perezs
desk, and what had been said in that troubling
encounter.
Captain Jordan shook his head. I dont suppose
well ever know what thats all about, either.
And I dont suppose Ill ever see my camera
again, Dean added gloomily. It sounds like its
gone for good, doggone it!
The three parted, and Vicki took a taxi up the
mountain to her hotel. All the way up, she kept
thinking about the incident of the snapshots. It was
as strange and inexplicable as the shooting.
Suddenly, despite the heat of the afternoon sun,
Vicki shivered, filled with a sense of foreboding.

139

CHAPTER IX

In Danger

Luncheon was in full swing on the shaded terrace.


Vicki had to wait for a table to be vacated, so many
new people had arrived. She sat watching them: they
were mostly tourists, sunburned, laughing, carefree,
in spendthrift, holiday mood. The Monte Azul
courtyard was crowded with their parked cars. One
party was just pulling out, their car laden with
Mexican silver and fur coats for the trip north,
starting out over lonely mountain roads.
A waiter came up to Vicki.
The seora asks if you would care to join her at
her table. She is sorry to see you waiting.
Thank you, I will.
Vicki followed the waiter, threading her way
through tables of guests to where the little seora sat
with her two sons. Anita Vallejo looked childishly
young in her usual lacy black, but she was being
very much the mother and hostess.
Buenos das, Miss Barr. Is it too windy here for
140

you? But it is two oclock, you must be hungry.


Vicki thanked her, and spoke to her two grave
little boys. They were still only babies, with their
young mothers wondering, innocent eyes. As Vicki
sat down, she realized she was not only hungry, and
tired from her five hours flight, but trembling a
little. It must be a belated reaction to the shooting
to this mornings tension and excitementnow that
she had left her passengers and no longer had to
feign calmness.
Vicki decided against upsetting the gentle seora
with this violent piece of news. Instead, she
remarked: Where is Mr. Perez? I dont see him
around. Isnt he usually here at lunchtime?
The seoras hand, halfway to feed the youngest
boy, hesitated in mid-air. He She stopped,
started again with a frown. He has gone down to
the village on an errand, I suppose. He was very
how you say?cross.
Vicki smiled. The seora was so solemn about
everything. Well, what if he was cross? Youre not
afraid of him, surely, Vicki coaxed. Just the same,
she thought the seora might be afraid of Perez. The
man did seem to hide cruelty under his smooth
exterior.
N-no. It is just that I depend on him so much.
You see, I really could not find another manager so
excellent as Julio Perez. Here, chiquito, eat another
141

bite. She looked up at Vicki with more in her great


dark eyes than she was saying. Mr. Perez is so
much more smart than I am.
There was an undertone of anxiety in her voice.
She went on to say rapidly that her two small sons
were usually fed in the nursery, Mr. Perez insisted
on it, but today, since he was gone, she was making
an exception. They love to eat out here with the rest
of the people. It is such a treat for them! And arent
they well-behaved? Arent they good boys?
They certainly are good boys, Vicki said,
smiling. The two tiny boys grew stiffer than ever
with pride. They will grow up to be fine men.
The older one piped up: Ser aviador.Im
going to be an aviator.
The seora said suddenly, urgently, I wish my
husband were alive, Miss Barr, running the hotel
and helping me to raise the children. Sometimes
sometimes She broke off abruptly, almost as
though she regretted making the admission, and
would say no more. It left Vicki puzzled, and more
convinced than ever that there was something
peculiar, or even sinister, about Perez.
After lunch, the seora took the children off for a
nap, guests climbed into cars and taxis, going to the
beach, or drifted around the terraces. Vicki found
some mail from home awaiting her and took it to her
room to read. Then she rested a bit, still shaken from
142

the mornings bandits. She must have fallen


asleep, for the next thing she knew, someone was
tapping on her door.
Telfono, seorita. It was one of the maids,
grinning at Vickis sleepy face.
Gracias. Vengo immediatemente.
Vicki ran lightly across courtyard and terraces to
the hotel managers desk, where one telephone
receiver was off its hook. Perez was typing out some
bills, and gave Vicki an absent nod. She nodded
back, and talked on the phone to Dean, who
suggested going dancing at Los Homos beach
tonight.
And Dean had pleasant news. Tomorrows flights
had been canceled because of a predicted dust storm.
The crew would have the day off.
Capn says, Dean reported over the phone,
lets drive to Taxco and see the silver market. It
makes a nice one-day jaunt. The dust storm wont
affect driving.
Id love to see Taxco, Vicki replied into the
phone. Wherell we get a car? . . . No, no
chauffeur, Dean, more fun to drive ourselves . . .
Look around, will you? Tomorrow is pretty short
notice.
Dean said they had all better make inquiries and
then settle it when they met this evening. He and
Vicki hung up.
143

Mr. Perez glanced over the desk and smiled.


Shall I get you a car, Miss Barr? I couldnt help
hearing.
Whyahthanks.
Lets see. The young hotel manager glanced at
some papers. We arent expecting any new arrivals
tomorrow. I could lend you the hotel car. It would
save you the cost of renting one.
Why, thats kind of you, Mr. Perez, Vicki said
stiffly.
Not at all. The car would just stand here in the
courtyard all day.
Vicki remembered her perilous ride in that car on
the day she first came to the Monte Azul. Isnt
there something wrong with the brakes?
Julio Perez looked distressed. Youre right, there
isor was. Havent those brakes been fixed yet? Ill
speak to the driver about it before this day is over.
He scribbled a reminder and hailed a passing waiter,
saying in Spanish, If anyone sees the driver, tell
him I want him. And will you bring some coffee?
Vicki felt disturbed. Mr. Perez had seemed
outwardly only courteous and accommodating to
offer the car, but a car with defective brakes!
Well, he was having it fixed. Nevertheless, Vicki
determined not to use the hotel car. Her pilots could
rent another one. It occurred to her, with a small
grin, that the Mexican hotel driver had beenmost
144

Mexicans wereblithely casual about mere


mechanical things like brakes!
Julio Perez had come around from his desk and
stood beside her, lighting a cigarette. The waiter had
returned with a pot of coffee and the fine, miniature
demitasses which Perez affected. He set them on a
small table between two cactus-straw chairs, placed
before feathery palms.
Wont you join me, Miss Barr? Perez was
already pouring her cup.
Thank you. She did not want to, but could not
quite bring herself to be downright rude. She sat
down beside Julio Perez, struck afresh by the suave
figure this young man cut. He sat, knees crossed,
slim, dark, handsome in his meticulous white sports
clothes, elegantly sipping and smoking, cigarette
dangling from one relaxed hand.
There was an instants challenging pause.
I hear you were shot at this morning, Perez
said.
Vicki nearly dropped her coffee cup. You know
everything! Mr. Perez, you must be clairvoyant.
Why, half the town has walked out to the airport
to see your plane. Everybodys talking about it.
Thats right, Vicki recalled, you went down to
the village at lunchtime on an errand.
Who told you that? His tone was so sharp that
Vicki turned in her chair to look at him. He relaxed
145

under her scrutiny and half sighed, half smiled.


Forgive me, Miss Barr. Ive had the most
exasperating day. Everybodys got my messages and
instructions mixed up. He laughingly shook his
head. Take my advice, dont ever run a hotel. It
ruins ones disposition.
Vicki laughed. The seora said you were pretty
cross today.
She had no right to say that! Perezs tone was
again so harsh that Vicki was astonished. He tried to
cover the awkward tension by pouring more coffee.
He started again. I guess Ive been working too
hard. I try not to show it, though. I think its
undignified. I try at least to look leisurelyor is that
a luxury only for a gentleman?
This viewpoint sounded odd to Vickis American
ears. She said:
Still, its something to live in this paradise.
Perez looked out over the hills and sea. Paradise,
yes. But there is no future here for me.
They sipped their coffee. Presently Perez went
on:
Yes, I work hard. Ive been working hard for
years and Im scarcely closer to my goala hotel of
my own than I was when I started. This is a lonely
life, Miss Barr. Many people around, but always
strangers. I cant afford to marry. Its lonely. He
shook his dark head. You go back to your room, to
146

a book, a cigarette . . .
Yes, that is lonely, Vicki murmured.
Besides, Im tired of working for a pittance! I
want to see some real money! Then the young man
smiled wearily. For years I have been trying to get
together enough money for a hotel of my own. But
its just one trouble and obstacle after another. For
ten years Ive been trying.
He told Vicki that he had attended an American
college on the West Coast for a year, but could not
afford to continue. You Americans are so rich and
free, he said enviously.
What are you going to do about your
ambitions? she inquired.
He leaned his head back languidly against the
chair. Bide my time. Take whatever opportunities
come along, I suppose.
He shrugged and rose from his chair.
I must go back to my duties. Remember, he
added, Ill expect you to use the hotel car for your
trip to Taxco.
ButbutIll have to consult my pilots.
Theyll probably want to rent a car, Vicki
stammered. But he had already moved away.
Perezs insistence on her taking the hotel car
struck Vicki as odd. In fact, she had not liked this
entire interview, pleasant though it seemed on the
surface. She came away with the distinct impression
147

that Perez had confided his life story to her, and had
been charming to her, in order to quiet her distrust of
himif he suspected any distrust.
That evening Captain Jordan announced he had
secured a car, had wired for accommodations at a
hotel in Taxco, and were all set. Did you know
Taxco sits on top of a mountain which is a silver
mine inside?
The big pilot sat in the gaily lighted dance
pavilion and watched the crowd, while Vicki and
Dean danced. Between numbers they brought him a
coconut.
Youre my real chaperon, Capn Tom, Vicki
teased. Youve taken over Cousin Cissys job.
Just getting into practice for when my own
daughter grows up and goes dancing.
Next morning the two pilots drove up to the
Monte Azul in a rented car to collect Vicki. Perez
came out to the courtyard as Vicki was getting into
the car.
Ah, Miss Barr, he said, you should really have
taken the hotel car and saved these gentlemen the
trouble of renting one.
Vicki could hardly avoid making introductions.
Captain Jordan, Mr. Fletcher, this is Mr. Perez, she
said but with no encouragement in her voice.
Julio Perez acknowledged the introductions.
Well, a good trip to you, anyway.
148

As they drove away, Dean remarked,


Considerate chap. Seems nice. Whats this about
the hotel car?
Vicki explained.
Whats the right turning? Tom Jordan asked.
They had left the seaside town of Acapulco and
now their car was climbing into the hills. The
mountains sparkled with a morning freshness,
pristine and deserted as in the beginning of time. In
an hours driving, they passed only a car of tourists
and a boy and his yellow hound-dog jogging along
on a burro.
Say, look! Dean hung out the side of the car
and peered down the sheer drop of mountain.
Doesnt this valley look familiar?
Vicki took a careful look at the shapes of the
mountain peaks. Sure enough. This must be about
where that Indian village is.
Captain Jordan looked down, too, and while he
was looking, their car nearly veered over the edge of
the mountain road. He grabbed the wheel, muttering
that they were ten thousand feet uptwo miles
above the valley floor.
How did you ever get the Cub in and out of
there? he demanded of Dean. Looks like this
canyon is wide at the top but narrows at the bottom
of the gorge, where you say the village is. I cant
even see it from here.
149

Thats right. Dean explained to Captain Jordan


that the village lay in an extremely narrow canyon at
the bottom of this larger valley. From the air was
about the only way to spot it.
Why, thats just a vertical pocket of space!
Tom Jordan mused. How do the Indians get out of
the valley pocket to the outside world?
That was a tantalizing question. Up here on the
paved highway, they saw no roads, not even any
trails, leading into the wilderness of rock. It seemed
to them impossible that any car could get through,
unless in these chasms and gorges were short cuts
not visible to the eyes of foreigners. Still, not even
that seemed possible. By foot or by burro would be
the only way to struggle up and down that two-mile
incline.
They drove for another hour. They met only a gay
little red bus, jammed with Mexicans going to
Acapulco for a holiday. Once they passed an old
man carrying a bag of grain on his back. The sun
beat down on the empty air. The silence was as
endless as the vistas of rolling mountain peaks.
Vicki grew hungry, so they searched out a narrow
spot alongside the road where they could park, and
ate the basket of lunch which Captain Jordan had
brought along.
I dont even hear any birds up here, Vicki
noticed.
150

Its the top of the world.


It feels as if were out of the world.
Nobody left on earth but the three of us.
Their voices sounded small. It would be a relief,
they admitted, to meet some living creature, an
Indian or even a lizard, or see smoke from a fire, or
hear another car, again. This vast, silent emptiness
of sun and dust and rock unnerved them.
They started off again, Dean driving. They were
quite near to their destination when their wish to
encounter another living being was fulfilledwith a
vengeance.
Halfway down a graded slope, shots rang out.
The car skidded crazily, its rear tires shot out. Dean
clutched the wheel with all his strength. The car
banged and screeched along. Shots exploded again,
close, crashing into echoes. Dean stepped on the gas
and kept going, straining to hold the skidding car
away from the mountain edge. Vicki, cowering back
into the car, saw no oneonly a puff of smoke
rising from the rocks.
Deans face was white, Vicki and Captain Jordan
sat speechless. For ten eternal minutes they wound
around the mountain in a speeding car whose
clanking back wheels did not grip the road. Only
Deans split-second maneuvering and his powerful
pull on the steering wheel kept them from going
over the side.
151

They careened into the hilly, cobblestoned town


of Taxco, shaken and spent. Dean yanked on the
brake, then crossed his arms on the steering wheel
and laid down his head.
Good grief! What a narrow escape!
Vicki wiped his drawn face with her
handkerchief.
You saved us, Dean.
You kept going, boy! Captain Jordan thumped
Dean on the shoulder. Thats what really saved us.
Dean lifted his head and blinked, trying to
compose himself. Shot at yesterday morning and
this morningboth times in deserted mountain
passes. What do you suppose they wanted this
time?
I imagine they thought we had luggage and
money, Tom Jordan replied. Maybe they wanted
the car, too.
A stick-up, Dean mused. An attempted
robbery, hey? Well, they didnt get away with it!
Vicki swallowed hard in a dry throat. Bandits,
thats what the airline official said. Jeepers, I didnt
believe in bandits before, but I certainly do now.
The two men got out of the car and went back to
examine the two rear wheels. But Vicki was busy
listening to an inner warning.
Perez had known all along that their plane had
been shot atyet he had barely mentioned it, and
152

then only after he and Vicki had been talking for


quite a while. Now Perez had learned that they were
going to Taxco, and now they were shot at again.
Was it only coincidence? Vicki wondered.
Vic! Captain Jordan called, interrupting her
thoughts, Arent you coming into the hotel?
They went in to clean up and have cool drinks,
leaving the car at the hotel garage to have the tires
repaired, if possible. Otherwise they would have
new ones put on.
This was a small town and a small, peaceful inn.
They were shown to a table in an open-air patio
filled with plants and parrots and a splashing
fountain. There were few other guests.
I wish I could talk to Cissy, Vicki said. She
and Steve have lived here for two years. They ought
to know whether we should report this shooting to
the American Embassy.
There are crime and criminals in any country,
Dean remarked.
Vickis right, Captain Jordan interceded. Call
up Cissy long-distance and ask her.
Vicki rose from the table. She may not be back
from Detroit yet, but Im going to telephone at once,
if youll excuse me.
Luckily, in answer to the distant ringing, Cissy
herself replied.
Yes, Im home, cant you tell? Hello, darling,
153

Im so sorry I havent answered your letter, but


Cissy, listen. Vicki cut her short. Something
very serious has happened. She repeated the events
of yesterday and this morning.
There was a long pause at Cissys end of the wire.
When Cecilia Clayton spoke again, her frivolity was
gone.
Vicki, thats dreadful. Are you sure youre all
right? . . . Honestly? . . . Im certainly going to
report it to our embassy, just to be safe. Vicki,
listen
Im listening. Cissy, do you think it was bandits?
Attempted holdups? Oror?
I think it was attempted robbery. Though its
hard to tell at a distance. But dont blame it on
Mexico, Cissy pleaded over the phone. You leave
your house door unlocked, because you can trust any
ordinary citizen. But every once in a while there are
bandit gangs. Like anywhere. You could get held up
in New York or Chicago, or Paris or London, just as
easily.
Yes, thats so. Oh, Cissy! What do you think of
that strange business about our photographs? I guess
maybe I was too excited when I wrote you, but it all
seems very peculiar.
Well, I thought it was pretty odd. But I dont see
any connection between that and these shootings,
Vicki.
154

Maybe there isnt any connection. Exceptan


earlier doubt made Vicki ponder againexcept
Perez does seem to be a rather strange character.
I think, Cissys voice came positively, youd
better learn more about that young man.
Vicki hung up, determined to do just that. Her
day in Taxcoshopping in the silver shops, visiting
the cathedral, watching the fireworks at dusk
seemed dreamlike, less real than the presence, in her
thoughts, of Perez.

155

CHAPTER X

Grounds for Suspicion

Perez had something definitely malicious about him.


So Vicki reflected, drinking her breakfast coffee in
the brilliant morning sun and watching Perez at his
desk. It was her first free day after several
commercial runs and she meant to use it well.
Vicki lingered until the other guests deserted the
dining terrace. Then she strolled over toward the
desk where Perez sat, his back toward the terrace.
He had already made his early morning trip to the
village and was writing out bills.
She was halfway across when one of the
telephones rang. Perez answered. Vicki went on,
thinking it might be Dean or Captain Jordan calling.
Bueno . . . yes, Monte Azul . . . yes. Perezs
voice, usually polite, choked with rage. What?
Delivered what? I thought I gave you strict
instructions
Vicki backed away at the sound of that voice. It
was vicious. Apparently Perez, with his back to
156

Vicki, believed himself alone on the deserted


terrace, for he lashed out:
You senseless fool! What on earth made you do
it? Dont you realize what might be the results? . . .
Yes, of course Ill bring it when I can . . . But Im
warning you that it must never happen again! You
do as I say!
Vicki, shaken by his sinister tone, ducked through
an archway out of sight. From there she could see
Perez slam down the receiver and glance around
furtively. Then he sat down once more at his desk,
mopping his face, which had gone deathly white.
Vicki quietly moved off toward the lower
terraces, using a side flight of steps away from
Perez. How brutally he had revealed himself just
now! So this was Perez with the veneer off. Vicki
thought back to the day of her arrival, when Mr.
Perez seemed just an unusually hospitable hotel
manager. And now . . . What was it that had been
delivered to the hotel, apparently by mistake? Why
was Perez going to bring it back, and to where?
Vicki was determined to find out all she could about
him.
She spotted a small figure on the farthest terrace.
It was Anita Vallejo, strolling all by herself. Vicki
went toward her, feeling sorry for the little seora. It
must be unpleasant to have to put up with a manager
as domineering as Perez, with his moods and
157

temper. The gentle Anita was easily intimidated by


Perez. She could even be easily cheated by Perez. It
dawned on Vicki for the first time that an ambitious,
hot-tempered man like Perezif he was
unscrupulous enoughmight even try to wrest this
hotel away from the childlike seora.
No, ambitious isnt the word for Perez, Vicki
thought as she walked. Because he isnt willing to
work too hard for what he gets. He probably thinks
hes too clever to have to work. Hes not ambitious,
hes only greedy. She hastened on toward Anita
Vallejo, wanting to protect her from the terrible
temper she had just seen Perez unleash.
Good morning, Miss Barr. How happy to see
you! But why you are not at the beach?
Good morning! Why arent you? Vicki
countered, smiling.
As the seora gravely explained that her presence
as owner was needed at the hotel, Vicki felt a little
catch in her throat. Anita Vallejo was as natural and
innocent a part of these tropics as a drifting cloud.
She gazed down, dreaming, at the blue sea below.
She would hardly be a match for Perez. Her dark
face on its slender stalk of neck reminded Vicki of a
flower on a stem.
I never showed you my lace, Miss Barr, the
seora said shyly. But this, I make it myself She
spread out the hem of her black dress, with its filmy
158

flounce of black lace.


Its beautiful. Vicki bent to admire the fine
handiwork. What a great deal of work and skill.
Is nothing. For truly fine lace, antique,
handmade you should drive to the Lace House. Is
not far from here. A privately owned collection. Oh,
Miss Barr, the most beautiful lace!
The little seora sighed with such delight that
Vicki laughed.
Do not laugh. Wait! You will see the Spanish
rose and carnation embroideries in all colors, on net.
And the sun pattern worked in gold. Andand
Anitas dark eyes grew enormous. Best of all are
the mantillas! Of Spanish lace, in either black or
white. Oh-h-h, the mantillas!
Youd like to have one? Vicki asked.
My dream! But is impossible. That lace is
priceless. Very rarely offered for sale.
Both young women turned as they heard Julio
Perez call them. He came across the terraces waving
a handful of letters.
No, none for you, seora. I am sorry. All these
are for Miss Barr. He perched on the balustrade for
a moment. What were you talking about?
Lace. I tell Miss Barr about the Lace House.
And the seora tells me she longs for one of
those mantillas.
The young man said gallantly he wished he could
159

get them each a mantilla, a black one for Anita, a


white one for Vicki. He and the seora both were
staring curiously at the letters in Vickis hand.
Is postmarked New York, Anita Vallejo
breathed in wonder. How I should like to see New
York! Please to open and read?
There were letters from her family, from Miss
Benson, from her crowd of flight stewardesses.
Vicki read the letter from Charmion and Jean, parts
of it aloud, Jean would not be sent to Mexico, after
all. Charmion had a new admirer. Dot Crowley,
reddish-haired and square-jawed, had taken up
counting to ten at explosive moments, a promise she
had made to Charmion. Mrs. Duff was sick. New
York was freezing under its third day of snow.
What is snow? puzzled the seora.
Vicki tried to describe it, assisted by Julio Perez,
who had actually touched snow once on a mountain
hike. But Anita persisted in thinking snow was a sort
of sherbet, without the flavoring. They all burst out
laughing. Ill ask my friends to mail a package of
snow to Acapulco, Vicki teased, so you can see it
for yourself.
Will melt, no? worried the seora.
Will melt, yes. Perez laughed. Such a
question! Just like you.
The little seora winced. That is unkind of you.
Vicki quickly said something about how exciting
160

New York was, they must see it someday. As she


chattered, she noted Perezs expression. Nettling the
seora seemed to console him for his subordinate
position.
Yes, said Perez, I want to travel to New York
someday. If I cant have a hotel, Id be willing just
to be rich.
He smiled at his joke, but something about the
way he said it made Vicki uncomfortable. Anita
turned away, then said quietly, What have you
pretty?
Vicki realized she wanted to get away from
Perez. Want to come to my room? Ill show you
some more of my things.
Can try on? Hats? Jollerajewelry, too?
Perez seemed to laugh at them as they departed
across the courtyard.
A short time later, the fashion show was over and
an elated little seora departed. Vicki was putting
hats away when she heard a car start and Perez call,
presumably to the driver:
Ill be ready to go in a moment.
Instantly Vicki was alert. The hotel manager
never drove down into the village at this time of day.
Perhaps this was related to the cryptic telephone
call.
Vicki closed her room door and went out into the
hot courtyard. The car which had just pulled in was
161

the hotel car, the one Perez had offered for the
Taxco trip and which Vicki had declined. The driver
was the same cheerful, middle-aged man who had
once assured Vicki that this car could carry her to
heaven. Perez had disappeared into the hotel.
Buenos das, Vicki said to the driver, and
continued in Spanish, How are the brakes today?
He leaned out the car window and grinned. No
hay freno. No hay. There are no brakes. There
simply arent any. All burned out. As if it were the
most natural thing in the world.
Vicki blinked. Then why dont you have new
brake bands put in?
You cant put brakes in this car, and he gave
her a ridiculous explanation.
But driving up and down mountains with no
brakes! Vicki gasped. Youre going to have an
accident someday.
The driver grinned and shrugged. I drive it all
the time without brakes and nada pasa, nothing
happens.
Vicki caught sight of Perez coming across the
courtyard, carrying a large, wrapped bundle. It was
impossible to tell what was inside. He seemed a
little irritated to find Vicki there.
Youre giving up a swim on this fine day? he
said. He carefully stowed the bundle in the back seat
of the car. I only wish I could go for a swim.
162

Mr. Perez! Vicki demanded lightly. Honestly,


arent there any brakes in this car?
A grin of relief spread over his handsome face.
Oh, you Americans are too particular. We had the
old brake bands taken out several times, and new
ones put in. He talked very rapidly, as if to divert
her. In the meantime, we have to use the car, brakes
or not. Pedro, cundo tendremos el freno?
Mircoles? . . . Driver says the brakes will be ready
Wednesday. Perez climbed in and joked nervously
with Vicki. Want a lift downtown? No brakes, you
know.
In that car? No, thanks!
I knew you wouldnt accept. Anything I can
bring you from the village? . . . Pedro, get out. Ill
drive myself. You stay here and help Mike with the
pump.
The driver looked puzzled. He continued to sit
reluctantly behind the wheel. Perez said impatiently:
Go along, man, youre needed more here. I can
drive myself for once. Adis, Miss Barr.
The driver climbed out and plodded off toward
the back of the hotel. Perez slid into the drivers
seat, stepped on the gas, waved to Vicki, and the
hotel car went sailing downhill and around curves at
crazy speed.
A bicycle parked in the courtyard caught Vickis
eye. It belonged to one of the guests, who had told
163

Vicki she was welcome to use it whenever she


wished.
The car was barely out of sight when Vicki ran to
get the bicycle, and set out after Perez. It was only a
short distance down to the village and by coasting
downhill and then pedaling at a brisk pace, she
could not lose track of him. It would be easy to find
the hotel car parked somewhere on one of the few
main streets of Acapulco.
Vicki passed rich hotels, then shabby hotels
named after kings and queens: Quinto Eugenio . . .
Reina Maria Teresa . . . She passed a settlement of
poor homes and women on their knees beside a
stream, scrubbing clothes on flat stones.
As she passed a church clock, she was reminded
again that this was not Perezs regular hour to come
down to the village. Two separate memories linked
together and clicked in her mind. Once before Perez
had made an unscheduled midday trip down the
mountainthe day her plane was shot at! And he
had been furious when she told him that the seora
had mentioned it! Vicki was trembling. But further
than this, she could not figure.
In the dusty village, Vicki rolled along crowded
streets, threading her way among tourists and
beggars and shopkeepers. Indians, come to town for
the day, sold trays of sweetmeats and woven
baskets. Then she sighted the hotel car, parked near
164

a shabby caf.
Vicki dismounted and sat down on a park bench
across the street. Other loungers surged around her,
so that she could see and yet not be seen from the
caf.
Presently Perez came out of the caf. Vicki
watched him climb into the car and drive off. She
was starting over to her bicycle when she saw
another man stride out of the caf, with what looked
like the same bundle Perez had carried. She would
recognize that tall, insolent figure and hard face
anywhere. It was the leader of the obscure Indian
village!
Instinctively Vicki ducked behind a great tree so
that he would not see her. She stood against the tree
trunk for two or three minutes, her heart pounding.
Though she could not clearly name the reason for
her fear, she certainly did not want to confront him.
When she looked again, the leader had disappeared.
Whew! Well, I did discover something after all!
Or did I?
Why was the leader now carrying Perezs bundle?
Had Perez come to see him? What was the link
between the leader, the camera, the developed films,
and Perez? Was Perez perhaps a fence for stolen
goods? The leader might have brought him the
camera, Perez could have sold it, and they could
have split the money. But that seemed an awfully
165

petty thing for Perez to be doing. No, it wasnt that,


Vicki decided. Yet Perez certainly was not
conducting routine hotel business with that man.
Vicki wanted to talk it over with Dean.
She walked down the beach road and stopped at
the Hotel Papagayo. Luckily Dean was on the porch,
studying a book on electronics. He was glad to see
her.
But, Vic, you look as if youd seen a ghost!
I saw something nearly as startling. She told
Dean what she had just witnessed, a few blocks
away.
They talked it over and speculated together. But
after half an hour of fruitless discussion, Dean
admitted:
Theres nothing we can really do about the
whole thing. After all, we have no proof of anything;
we cant just report suspicions. We cant even prove
anything about the camera.
Vicki was discouraged. Dean invited her to stay
for lunch with Captain Jordan and himself.
Thanks, but no. I want to spend this entire day at
the Monte Azul seeing what I can learn about
Perez.
At least I can put you in a taxioh, you have a
bicycle. Dean awkwardly patted her hand. This
Perez really has upset you, hasnt he? Let me know
if I can help in any way.
166

After lunch Vicki stayed around the terraces,


hoping to find out something more. But Perez, busy
at his desk, was bland and noncommittal. The seora
was with her children in the nursery. Nothing
happened except that some new guests, well-to-do
Mexicans, pulled into the courtyard in their car with
the rear tires shot out. They were frightened and
angry. Bandits had held them up on a mountain road
and robbed them of all their luggage.
Brand-new alligator suitcases! the man fumed.
You were lucky they did nothing worse, Perez
said seriously. You had better notify the police.
But that happened at two oclock. By five oclock
Vicki was regretting a wasted afternoon. She had
learned nothing further.
Then, at five, the seora came out alone on the
terrace and asked Vicki if she would like to take the
walk to La Quebrada.
Indeed I would!
It is just a short stroll. We can talk, yes? By
now Vicki understood that the seora could not talk
freely in the hotel which she owned.
Anita and Vicki went down hot, peaceful dust
roads, smelling of summer. They came to the
famous cliffs of jagged rock, with a stone staircase
leading into the swirling sea below. The two girls sat
down a little apart from the other people wandering
here.
167

Anita pointed to the narrow, jagged slit in the


cliffs where Mexican boys dived for five-peso
pieces thrown in the water. She said an American
boy had tried it and had been dashed to death on the
rocks below.
Vicki shivered. Not a very cheerful story.
I do not feel very cheerful. Miss Barr, II
The little seora lifted tormented eyes. I have to tell
someone. Not my family, they worry, they do not
understand. I like to tell you. II am afraid.
Of Perez.
Yes, of Perez.
They sat in the hot wind, looking out over the
Pacific.
Vicki could understand why Anita feared Perez.
The man was plainly worried about his double
existence. His fury on the telephone this morning
proved he was worried. He was not a strong enough
character to hide his worries entirely. And he took it
out on the seora, bullying her, intimidating her.
Seora, why dont you get another manager in
his place?
I told you! Very hard to find good managers,
any managers. Besides, even if I could find
someone, is difficult to make a change. The hotel
would lose much money while the new man learns
all about the Monte Azul. Perez knows for four
years how to run it.
168

Anita looked down unhappily at her hands. There


was a pause.
Vicki asked softly, What are you afraid Perez
might do?
I do not know. Only that I am afraid.
What could Perez do to hurt you? He wants a
hotel of his own, I know. Do you think he
The little seora laughed without mirth, and
smoothed back her blowing, silky black hair. Try to
get the hotel away from me? I have thought of that.
But how could he do it? A trick? Vicki, I am not so
foolish as to sign any papers. My father and brother
told me never to sign anything without I ask them
first, they will come here if need be. The lawyer, and
the man at the bank too, they look out for me.
Executor, I think you call it. So how could Perez
own my hotel? No. He cannot even cheat me of the
hotels earnings. My husband left all the papers very
safe, very sure, for me.
Vicki listened and recognized the truth of what
Anita Vallejo was saying. Well, then? An odd
thought occurred to Vicki. Perez might be using the
Hotel Monte Azul as a front for some other activity.
Everything pointed to that. Or, if he did have an
acquisitive eye on the hotel, it was probably
incidental. Yes, a respectable front to hide whatever
he was up to. But how did the leader, and Vicki
herself, all tie in?
169

The seora stood up. Is late, Vicki.


They scrambled up the rocks and climbed slowly
back up the mountain to the hotel. Perez, sitting on
the balustrade overhead, saw them coming and
called: Have a nice walk?
Very nice, they called back up to him, and
smile because there was nothing else to say or do.

170

CHAPTER XI

The Web Tightens

A few mornings later, between flights, Vicki


dragged Dean to the Lace House. They drove to an
estate not far from Acapulco.
I dont know anything about lace, Dean
grumbled. But he loyally helped Vicki out of the
taxi and strode beside her into this beautiful small
white building.
In the marble foyer, an elderly man who seemed
to be both curator and caretaker questioned them. He
asked to see identification papers, explaining that he
must be careful to admit only responsible persons to
this private art collection.
You understand that the laces here are priceless.
Seor and Seorahe named the owners, a
wealthy elderly couplehave made a hobby of
collecting lace, for a lifetime. Very well, your papers
seem satisfactory. You may go in. Please do not
touch anything.
Vicki tiptoed into the long, stately salon with its
walls of palest green Mexican jade. Delight was all
171

over her sunburned little face. Dean clumped after


her, determined to be bored.
But both of them were breathless at the beauty on
display in glass cases. Unfurled here were exquisite,
foamy lengths of fairylike fabric which had taken
innumerable needlewomen years to embroider, and
which had covered the shoulders of queens and
emperors and church dignitaries. Here was a
gossamer wisp of handkerchief, the lion of Castile
and the castle of Leon woven into it, once carried by
an ill-fated little princess of Spain. A white lace fan,
were it not mute, could have told the secrets of a
conqueror. From two eras of Mexican history, Aztec
tribal robes and lace-yoked cotton blouses lay side
by side. And from the walls of this hushed salon,
from shadowy oil portraits, the long-dead looked
down upon their fans and cassocks and mantillas,
which had endured beyond themselves.
Vicki shuddered a little. Remember the Spanish
grandee at San Angelina, that time we went down
into the crypt? she whispered to Dean. Remember
his cape and buckled shoes? You cant help thinking
about the people who once used those things.
Dean whispered back, no longer matter of fact.
It feels as if the dead are still around, looking over
your shoulder. Makes you realize youre part of a
long, long human chain. He started to say he had
never until now understood what history was, when
172

they came to a locked door.


Footsteps sounded behind them. The elderly man
in charge came hurrying up to them with a key.
You have arrived so early that I have not yet
unlocked all the rooms for the day.
He turned the key in the lock, swung the heavy
door ajar, and took a few steps into the next, dim
room. Then the man cried out in horror.
Its gone! Its gone!
Whats gone? Vicki and Dean asked. They
craned their necks to see. But the man rushed past
them, crying:
Its gone! Arturo! Beatriz! Ven ac! The robes
are stolen! Last nightit must have been during the
night!
He disappeared at a run up a miniature staircase.
A young man and a girl appeared in bewilderment
on an upstairs balcony, to meet him. The three
conferred in hushed excitement.
The elderly man was crying indignantly,
Vandals! Stealing from the dead! Stealing treasures
which belong to the whole nation!
Vicki and Dean saw that visitors were unwanted
now. They started for the main door.
Dean, what do the thieves want with these art
objects?
Sell em. Make a fortune.
But, Dean, Vicki asked as they got back into
173

their taxi, where could the thieves sell historic art


objects? Disposing of, say, a kings crown would
stamp the thief at once.
Sell em abroad. Therere plenty of dealers who
wont ask how or why a crown or a painting turns up
where it is. They pay and keep quiet.
Pulling into Acapulco, they found news of the
museum theft had already reached there. The town
was abuzz with it. On the terraces of the Monte
Azul, Vicki heard universal indignation over this
outrage.
Its a national scandal! said the Mexican guests.
We regret, said the Mexicans to the American
guests, Vicki among them, that you witness this
unpatriotic theft. Private collection, yes, but almost
all private collections are eventually bequeathed to
the government and the nation. This theft of
Mexican and Spanish art is a disgrace!
Vicki saw that the Mexicans, so proud of their
beautiful country, were really deeply ashamed. The
Americans pointed out that crime could happen
anywhere, in any country. But the Mexicans were
not consoled, Disgrace, they repeated fierily.
Someone asked the Mexicans, Have there been
museum thefts like this before?
Once, we think, not long ago. And once, years
ago.
Is there a gang behind this raid? And what about
174

the occasional holdups in the mountains? Is that a


gang, do you think?
The Mexicans shook their heads in a puzzled
way. No organized gang exists, to the best of
general public knowledge.
After lunch Vicki went over to see Perez at his
desk. She was curious to learn his reaction to the
robbery.
Julio Perez looked at her across the desk counter.
Ah, Miss Barr! Good afternoon, Miss Barr! His
satirical courtesy was not pleasant.
Vicki said hello and made a few inquiries about
mail. Then she asked, Mr. Perez, what do you think
of the robbery at Lace House?
Shocking. He grinned. What did you expect
me to say?
His tone was so cynical, so rude, that Vicki felt
stunned. Then a fighting glint appeared in her soft
blue eyes. She retorted, very politely:
Im so glad to have your considered opinion on
the matter.
His eyes flickered. He heard the unmistakable
challenge in Vickis voice and he hadnt expected it.
Vicki took her mail, thanked him, and started to
walk away.
Miss Barr! Perez called after her. He had risen
from his chair and seemed anxious to detain her. I
hope you didnt misunderstand me just now
175

But Vicki, with the briefest of smiles, did not stay


to listen. She hurried on.
His tone had been really anxious, Vicki realized.
Could he have found out that she followed him to
the caf that day? She faltered on the step. That was
a chilling possibility.
As Vicki walked toward her room, the little
seora darted out from the nursery. She anxiously
caught Vickis hand and drew her around an
archway, out of sight.
What was Perez saying to you just now? Anita
demanded.
Vicki smiled wryly. The words didnt matter.
We weremeasuring each other. She drew a long,
deep breath. Did you ever hear of an Indian village
where they make yellow clay pottery?
Is many kinds of such pottery.
This is a peculiar orangey yellow with a painted
black design, like arrowheads. I guess each village
has its own design and colors.
No. Why?
There was nothing to be gained by telling Anita
of the village, and the leader. The girl obviously had
no helpful information. And there was no need to
alarm her. At least it was good to know that Anita
and the hotel were in no danger. Perez was mixed up
in something else. So Vicki smiled at Anita and
fibbed reassuringly:
176

Its not important about the pottery. I was just


curious, thats all.
She said a few pleasant and comforting things to
Anita. But Vicki wanted to be alone, because she
was beginning to put things together in her mind.
They chatted for a few minutes, of nothing in
particular.
When Vicki left the seora, a dozen people were
frantically searching for Perezguests, the kitchen
staff, two mechanics. There was a long-distance call
for him. Perez could not be found. Finally one of the
waiters remembered seeing him drive off in the
hotel car, although this was not his scheduled hour
to leave the hotel.
Hes gone to the village, Vicki guessed. To
that same caf? Nearly every time violence occurs,
before or aftershooting, thefts from travelers, now
a theft from a museumPerez goes down into
Acapulco village.
Vicki sat down on a step in the shade, and tried to
fit together what she knew. Perez and the village
were connected, she was sure. The village . . . it was
probably like a thousand others, except that it
boasted of a golden chalicegiven by a village son
who grew rich. Perez? No, Perez was not rich nor
was he Indian nor even part Indian.
Vicki had to give up, for the time being. She
pushed back her light hair and sighed.
177

CHAPTER XII

Antigua Castle

During the week which followed, Vicki talked


things over with Dean and Captain Jordan, between
their commercial flights. Captain Jordan agreed with
Vickis surmise that Perez might be involved in a
racket of some kind. But he warned:
Keep out of it, Vic, unless you gain some
definite evidence to turn over to the police. Even so,
Id feel a lot easier if youd just keep out of it
altogether.
Dean sided with Vicki. A man of Perezs type is
despicable. If we can get any evidence against him, I
say lets do it.
Vicki murmured thatin view of the two
shootings and the mysterious affair of the
snapshotstheir motive in clearing up Perezs
doings might well be one of self-defense.
Ill tell you what, Dean promised her. Well
hurry up that return trip to the Indian village. It
might just provide the clue. At least we could check
178

up on the camera.
Dont do anything foolhardy, Captain Jordan
cautioned them.
Dean wrote promptly to his fellow pilot in
Mexico City, Juan Arroyo, again asking him to fly
the rented Piper Cub to Acapulco. The little ship
was in good repair once more, and Juan wrote back
that he would deliver it in Acapulco very soon.
Simultaneously, Vicki wrote to Cissy telling her of
the plan, and saying this time they would not let any
obstacles whatsoever stand in the way. Cissy wrote
back, very soberly for her, asking they let her know
the date. When the date would be was not
foreseeable, just yet. But they all held themselves in
readiness.
Cissy also wrote that she and Steve had reported
the two shootings to the American Embassy. The
embassy had no immediate advice for Vicki and her
pilots, but would discuss things with the Mexican
police. The airline had already reported the plane
incident. It was admittedly difficult to track down a
few isolated men hiding out in the mountains, even
for Mexicos highly efficient, interstate motorcycle
police.
Isolated? Dean questioned, reading Cissys
letter. They were in the lobby of the old-fashioned
tropical hotel in Oaxaca, one terminal of their run.
Seems to me those isolated few men have been
179

pretty busy. Or maybe thats just a polite way to tell


us not to interfere.
Captain Jordan looked up from his newspaper.
Youve seen too many gangster movies back home,
Dean, thats whats the matter with you. He rattled
his American newspaper in annoyance. This
doggone paper is three days old. Wish I could read
the Spanish-language papers. Vic, be a good girl
?
Certainly, Capn. She took the coin he gave
her, and with Dean crossed the mosaic-tiled, palmfilled lobby to the newsstand. They bought this
evenings! Mexican newspaper.
Hel-lo! she whistled as a headline caught her
eye.
What? Tall Dean leaned over her shoulder but
could not translate the headline.
Come over here. She hastened back to where
Captain Jordan sat, Dean with her. The three
huddled together over the newspaper.
Will you listen to this! Vicki, translating, read
aloud the article marked: BULLETIN! EXTRA!
A historical collection of art treasures was
raided today at Antigua Castle, less than a week
after the robbery at Lace House. Thieves made their
way to the ancient monastery castle, located off the
main highway, which is preserved as a shrine. They
boldly entered in daylight, trussed up three guards,
180

and made off with beaten gold dishes, antique laces,


and paintings.
How this second raid, again on a private
collection, and an even greater desecration, was
accomplished was a question the three elderly
guards could not explain. There are no roads leading
to Antigua Castle and the mountain terrain is almost
impassable . . .
Vicki pricked up her ears. All around them in the
lobby, she heard growing indignation over this
second piece of banditry.
Dean, she said, lets go to Antigua and just see
what we can see.
Deans gray eyes snapped. The reticent young
man was aroused. We practically witnessed the
first robbery, Vic! Now theres a second! Okay, you
and I are going to Antigua Castle.
Id like, she said, to go for the sight-seeing
jaunt, even if we cant do any detecting. Theres so
much excitement over this robbery, its made me
curious.
Next morning they did go. Captain Jordan did not
entirely approve, and refused to go along on the
expedition. The castle had once belonged to a
Spanish grandee and was now preserved as a
religious and artistic relic. It lay between Oaxaca
and Acapulco. The devout made pilgrimages there.
Vicki and Dean had no idea how they were going to
181

find the place. But they had instructions from people


at the Oaxaca hotel, a map, and an unusually good
sense of direction. They rented a car, to carry them
until the roads ended.
Wish Juan had already flown us the Piper Cub,
Dean remarked. We sure could use it this
morning.
They were driving through blinding sun and
lonely rock, hunting for Antigua Castle.
Say, Vic. Do you think Capn Tom was right
when he said weve seen too many gangster
movies?
We-ell. They grinned at each other. Vicki
replied seriously, I havent a shred of actual proof
against Perez. All I have as evidence are those
unexplained snapshots, that angry telephone call,
and the fact that he happened to be in the same caf
as the village leader. Tisnt much, she admitted.
Then she giggled, Oh, shucks, Dean, were just
going exploring today, anyway.
Two would-be detectives on their day off, ho
agreed.
It was a long, hard drive. Antigua Castle seemed
to lie a little nearer Acapulco than Oaxaca, or at
least appeared easier of access from there.
At length Dean stopped the car, completely lost.
But an Indian boy trudging up the road directed
them. If they would leave their car on the next slope,
182

the boy said in Spanish, they could go on by foot.


On the next slope they parked, climbed out of the
car, and stood uncertainly in the sun and dust. No
road was visible except the one to the sea. The
Acapulco-Mexico City plane flew by high overhead,
but there was no other sound or sign of life.
Which way? Dean demanded. He mopped his
flushed face. I dont see a thing.
I think I do. Vicki walked between two
enormous yellow rocks, her gaze on the ground.
Yes, there was a faint trail here, with a few
footprints and tiny hoof-marks of burros.
Vicki and Dean followed the trail, their feet
skidding down the steep mountainside. Sparse,
occasional bushes afforded little foliage to grab at
and hang on to, in case they missed their footing in
the pebbly, shifting soil. But they made it, helping
each other, and then since the trail ended and they
had to guesseased their way down hot, bare rocks.
Now they stood at the edge of a gently rolling,
green meadow. Vicki lifted her arm straight ahead.
That must be Antigua.
Gray turrets, clusters of bell towers, rose up
against the hills and sky. Miles from anywhere, this
castle stood in lonely grandeur. Vicki marveled at
the devotion of Mexican people which would bring
them on this hard journey to an historic shrine.
They waded through deep grass. As they came
183

nearer, the castle loomed up enormous. They could


see its gray stone walls were crumbling. Pillars in
the arcade had fallen and birds nested there.
That castle looks like a regular honeycomb,
Dean muttered. It had a dozen wings, towers,
terraces, arcades, tunnels, crisscrossing one another.
Vicki looked down at the violets and cacti they
trod in order to enter the deserted stone courtyard.
The fountain, with its stone lions of Castile standing
guard, was cracked and dry. Over all the decay, wild
flowers grew. They heard voices. Vicki and Dean
immediately stiffened. Dean peered through the
heavy-leaved branch of a tree.
I see em, Dean said in a low voice. Police.
Poking around the ruins. Checking up, I suppose.
They havent seen us, Vicki whispered. If they
do, they wont let us in and that would be a shame
to go back without seeing anything. Lets go in
quietly and look around anyway.
They crept soundlessly through a side archway
and into a tunnel. In the dimness they groped along
past cells, sunken rooms, and an abandoned prison
until they found a flight of stairs. Something smooth
and warm struck Vicki sharply in the face. She
started to cry out, but restrained herself. It was a
great, evil-looking bird, frightened out of its hiding
place. Vicki watched with held breath as it flapped
away.
184

Want to turn back, Vic? Dean asked gently.


No.
They pushed on to the top of the stairs and found,
as Dean had said, a very honeycomb of rooms. This
was an almost medieval place, high-ceilinged, stonewalled, with high slits for windows, cold, silent,
empty. The only new things were the glass display
cases, in which a few scattered articles remained on
display.
Vic! I think I hear someone!
If the police find us here now, theyre likely to
arrest us as accomplices!
Up a ravaged staircase they ran. Yet still they
fancied they heard someone just behind. Up, up, into
a j bell tower they climbed. It was like being chased
by a phantom. Panting, and laughing quietly at their
own foolishness, they stood in the bell tower gazing
out over miles of desolate country.
I guess wed better go down, Vicki said finally.
Dean nodded toward the ground three stories
below. There the law officers, with their
motorcycles parked alongside, questioned some
local men in the pajama-like white cotton suits.
Three little gray burros, looking like toys, nibbled at
cactus.
Vic, lets go see if we can learn anything from
the police.
The uniformed men were puzzled to see a young
185

man and girl walking out of Antigua Castle toward


them. They scolded the two adventurous Americans
for entering, but were too occupied with yesterdays
robbery to pay much attention to Vicki and Dean, or
the local bystanders. It was quite easy to loiter in the
hot sun and overhear what the armed policemen
were saying among themselves.
Its the work of the Santos gang, no doubt about
it.
Its the Santos gangs mountain area. Typical of
their jobs. They must have come by burro or on
foot.
As usual. Remember the two shootings were
working on, the shootings against those
Americans?
Same locale, same technique. Its the Santos
gang, all right.
Vicki gasped. Dean, who had not understood the
Spanish, pressed her arm to keep her quiet. So the
police admitted now that there was a gang! And it
was the Santos gang whom they suspected of the
shootings. At least, Vicki thought, Ive not just been
imagining everything.
The
policemen
dragged
forward
their
motorcycles, preparing to depart. A heavy-set man
with iron-gray hair, who seemed to be the chief,
turned to the by-standers. He raised his voice and
said angrily:
186

Just in case anyone thinks these outrages are


going to go on! Were going to get tough. Anyone
connected! with the Santos gang had better watch
his hide!
They disappeared in a roar and a cloud of dust.
Behind Vicki, a Mexican gave a sad laugh. No
one even knows exactly whos in the Santos gang,
or where they hide out. Why, the very fact that they
exist is just barely coming to light. Ay, madre ma!
Thats why its never been officially admitted that
there is a gang.
Es nada, Vicki heard another man reply. Ruiz
was angry just now, didnt you see? Ruiz will fish
up plenty in the police dragnet. The Santos gang will
wish they had never been born.

187

CHAPTER XIII

Two Mantillas and a Letter

The Mexican police kept their word. Within three


days after Vicki and Deans visit to Antigua Castle,
the police caught two men, in the mountains around
Acapulco. The captives had confessed to being
members of the mysterious Santos gang, but so far
refused to name the other members or reveal where
the loot was hidden. All Mexico was talking about
the affair. The dragnet was out: the other members
of the Santos gang were presumed to be lying low.
Vicki had had an extremely busy flight schedule
during these three days. She had been in and out of
the Monte Azul simply to eat and sleep, at rather
odd hours, and had no chance to see either Perez or
the seora. One of the waiters had told her Perez
was ill, but working at his job nevertheless.
This blazing midafternoon she climbed tiredly out
of the taxi she had taken at the airport, and stood in
the Monte Azul courtyard with a sigh of relief. A
refreshing breeze blew up here on the mountaintop.
188

She had a blessed rest coming to her, and she


certainly had earned it. It still surprised her,
sometimes, how tiring it was to work in high
altitudes.
Vicki did not even pause to ask for mail from
home. She trudged to her room, wriggled out of her
crumpled flight uniform, showered, brushed out her
pale-gold hair, and slipped on a pink cotton dress.
She felt a lot cooler. Luncheon was over an hour ago
but perhaps the cook would take pity on her and
send out a tray. Shed ask the hotel manager.
Julio Perez was at his desk, looking pale and
plainly worried. Against his satiny black hair, his
skin was the color of chalk. He lifted dull eyes as
Vicki came up.
Hello, Miss Barr. A Mr. Arroyo telephoned just
now, while you were changing, that he brought over
the Cub for your trip. Perez tried to keep curiosity
and apprehension out of his glance.
Thanks, Vicki said noncommittally. She wished
Perez had not heard this piece of news.
Youd like some lunch? If you dont mind
waiting a few minutes, Ill see that something is
brought you.
Impersonal . . . polite . . . efficient. Julio Perez
was treating her exactly as he treated any other
guest. I But he seemed to want to get her away
quickly.
189

Vicki strolled across the shaded terrace and


leaned against the balustrade, looking at the
sparkling blue Pacific. Soon one of the waiters
brought her a tray. Perez was a few paces behind
him, on his way back to his desk with a demitasse.
Vicki called to him.
Have you any mail for me? Anything from
Mexico City?
Yes, theres a letter from Mrs. Clayton. Vicki
looked surprised and Perez explained hastily, Saw
her name on the envelope. Here it is.
Vicki thought, You slipped up just then, didnt
you?
She took Cissys letter and started for a table,
eager to read her mail as she lunched. But someone
called her.
It was an American woman who had once been a
passenger on Vickis plane. Vicki was reluctantly
drawn into sitting with her. The letters had to wait.
By the time she finished her lunch, in the flowerspiced wind, and got away from the tiresome
woman, she realized she should call Dean and find
out if he knew the Cub had arrived. She rang his
hotel, but was told he had gone out.
A maid told Vicki the seora wished to see her.
She stopped at the nursery door, was motioned by
the Indian nurse to the seoras apartment, and
knocked.
190

Anita Vallejo, fairly dancing with excitement,


invited Vicki in. The two young women had barely
exchanged greetings when the little seora cried:
Fiesta tonight! You must come! Everyone in
Mexican costume. I will lend to you whats pretty.
Say yes!
Yes! said Vicki, laughing. Id love to attend a
fiesta. Thank you very much.
Anita tied a red sash around her small, supple
figure and struck a dancing pose in front of the
mirror. No, no good, she decided. She threw the
sash aside and led Vicki over to two chairs. Forgive
me, I am so happy for the fiesta, I forgot to ask you
to sit down!
Vicki smiled. Ive never seen you so pleased
over anything.
The little seora cocked her head to one side. Is
not all for the fiesta. I am happy for Is supposed
to be a secret but is so beautiful, I must show you!
She raced over to a chest of drawers and tenderly
lifted out something wrapped in tissue paper.
But first, the combs!
Anita took from the drawer two carved, towering,
Spanish combs, of dark tortoise shell. She stood one
up in her own piled-up black hair and handed the
other to Vicki. Vicki did not know quite how to
place it. Oh, your hair is short, comb will not stay.
Bueno, I fix Hold still She tied a narrow
191

ribbon around Vickis blonde head and secured the


tall comb in the ribbon.
Beautiful, Vicki sighed as they looked together
in the mirror. Fancy dress on me
You havent seen the best! Now! Look!
From the tissue paper Anita lifted out two long,
narrow, lace mantillas. One was black, one white,
both exquisitely encrusted with medallions of net
and embroidery. Vicki could not believe her eyes.
They were as fine as any she had seen at Lace
House. She took the lace in one hand, almost afraid
to touch the frail stuff.
Seora, where did you ever get these wonderful
things?
Are they not magnficas? My dream come true.
Antique, you see? Such lace is no more made in the
world.
But, Seora Vallejo, these two mantillas must be
worth a fortune! How did you come by them?
Anitas childlike face fell. Is a secret. Then she
was all excitement again. Look, this is how to wear
a mantilla.
She draped the white mantilla over Vickis tall
comb, drawing it over her hair, so that lace framed
Vickis face and fell in long cascades over her
shoulders. Turning to the mirror, Anita draped the
black mantilla on her own comb. Then she snatched
up red roses from a bowl on the table, shook the
192

water from them, broke off the stems and leaves,


and filled the base of her comb with red roses, atop
her lace-covered hair. Vicki could only stare, the
effect was so ravishing.
Es linda, no? Her vanity was ingenuous.
Are you going to wear it to the fiesta this
evening?
I wish it very much. But is too valuable to wear
outdoors, might rain. Besides, Perez said is very
rare, so be careful not to
Perez?
There was a stinging silence.
The little seora sighed like a scolded child, and
turned forlornly away. Now you know the secret.
Do not tell.
Vicki promised. Perez gave you these
mantillas?
Yes. Anita turned back to Vicki, her enormous
brown eyes begging her to understand. Julio gave
me these to say he is sorry for not being very nice to
me, lately. He is temperamental, I guess. Poor Julio,
it was only because he was sick.
Julio! This was the first time Vicki had ever heard
Seora Vallejo call her manager by his first name.
And the sympathy in her voicepoor Julio,
indeed! Temperamentalnonsense! What had
Perez been saying to the little seora, these last few
days while Vicki was away, to bewitch her like this?
193

And why? For what purpose had Perez suddenly


changed his tactics?
Vicki felt terribly alarmed. She said earnestly to
Anita Vallejo, Where did he get such beautiful
things? Did he tell you?
Anita explained happily. They belonged to an
aunt of his who died recently, she left them to him.
Vicki wondered if this was really how the
mantillas had come into Perezs possession. She
wondered why Perez, who hungered for wealth, had
not sold these valuable laces instead of giving them
away. He could have realized a handsome sum on
them. It was all too possible that they were stolen
goods. Vicki grew more and more alarmed for
Anita. She groped for information, in order to be
able to help her in this obvious danger.
But, seora This may sound tactless but I am
sol anxious for you Why did Perez give the
mantillas to you?
Julio has no women relatives to give them to. No
one else. You know how alone he is. It would be a
pity to lock them in a box. And he knows, she
added gratefully, how much I love lace. Who could
resist such a gift? she pleaded.
Vicki thought worriedly that if these were stolen
goods, Perez would be too clever to sell them, at
least for a while. He might be planting them on
the seora, to put the blame on her in case of
194

discovery. Oh, that was pretty farfetched! Perez was


not timid, and probably he had some more
purposeful reason in flattering his employer with
this rich gift.
You and Julio Perez Vicki ventured. Her
voice was strained. You are on good terms again?
Oh, yes! After all, as he says, we are old
friends.
Hmm.
Julio says, running the Monte Azul, we face the
same problems, we have a special sympathy for each
other. He says, too, Anita hesitated, that in the
midst of strangers, we two are alone.
Vicki frowned. It sounds to me as if he were
leading up to a proposal of marriage.
Anita dimpled. How you Americans say?
could be. Oh, he is really so very nice to me, so
sweet. Yesterday when it was very hot, even though
he did not feel well The seora prattled along
about some small attentions Perez had showered on
her. But Vicki was not listening.
She did not like Perezs sudden and aggressive
change of tactics toward Anita. Marriage was a
maneuver by which Perez could gain ownership of
the Monte Azul. Vicki had believed he did not really
want this hotel, or any hotel, in spite of all his glib
talk. But now she was not so sure. Or, she might
have been correct up to now, and he could have
195

actually changed his mind within these last three


days. These three days in which the Antigua robbery
was on everybodys lips and two of the Santos gang
had been caught . . .
Abruptly, as if she had turned a page, Vicki saw
the situation from a different angle. Assume that
Perez was mixed up in some way with the robberies
and therefore with the Santos gang. His being ill
coincided with the man hunt. Maybe Perez was ill
with worry and anxiety. Another thing. He had been
cocky when the police were still in the dark, but now
he was acting diplomatic. Still another conclusion
tied in, too. While the bandits were getting away
with their acts, it looked as if Perez had not tried in
any way to gain control of the Monte Azul hotel.
But now that the Santos gangs exploits had been cut
short, and that road to quick wealth-without-work
had been blocked, Julio Perez seemed to be courting
the Monte Azuls owner. If he married Anita, he
could get the hotel and pose as a respectable man of
property!
That assumption certainly fits the facts! Vicki
thought. She turned to the little seora, pirouetting
in her lace. Perez certainly had worked fast. Well,
men did sweep girls off their feet sometimes. Perez
had succeeded, and so quickly, because the girl was
gullible. Yet, Vicki reflected with pity, Anitas
foolishness was not her own fault. She had always
196

been so protected and gently treated that a scoundrel


could fool her with soft words and gifts and an
appeal to her sympathies.
The little seora stopped prattling to stare at
Vicki. Vicki came out of her thoughts. Sorry to be
absent-minded.
Anita searched her face. Then she said slowly,
You think is something bad?
Vicki met her eyes squarely. She said bluntly, I
think the mantillas may have been stolen. I She
broke off. It would be hopeless to say it aloud to the
seora. Perez was clever, bold, and still a little
cocky underneath. Sooner or later most schemers
overplayed their daring and made a slip. Perez made
his slip when he presented the seora with these
mantillas of doubtful origin.
Seora, you must listen to me! Yes, poor Julio is
sick and all alone and he turns to you for
sympathyyes, its all very, very sad, Vicki said
wryly. Please, seora! Come to your senses! The
man is a schemer! If not worse . . . How many times
have you mistrusted him in the past? Why, not long
ago you told me you were afraid of him!
As Vicki said all this, Anitas face slowly
changed. Some of Vickis words, at least, seemed to
be sinking in.
I was afraid, yes, because Julio was acting badly.
But was only because Julio was sick
197

temperamentalmaybe overworked He has said


he is sorry. Is all right now. I forgive him.
Vicki looked at her and said very gravely, in
Spanish, Seora, Julio Perez is deceiving you! He
whispers pitiful appeals in your ear to deafen you!
He only wants to make use of you, seora! Dont
you understand?
Oh, no, Anita gasped out. Surely Julio would
not do that to me. Yet her little brown face was
uncertain and tears welled up in her eyes.
Vicki took her hand. Pobrecita, she said softly.
You are only a poor little child. Listen. I will prove
to you what I have said.
Prove?
Yes, prove. Because I must make you see that
you are in danger.
Anita clung to her hand. Please, how will you
prove?
Vicki threw herself down in a chair, staring at the
cluttered table before her. She sat thinking for two
or three minutes. Anita waited.
I think I have it, Vicki murmured at last. We
will use the mantillas to put Perez to a test.
She described to Anita a simple, dramatic action.
It would take place when Perez came to escort both
girls to the fiesta. The seora was nervous. Vicki
talked a long time to persuade her. Vicki had
misgivings, too, lest, when they confronted Perez,
198

the ruse failed to work. But Vicki counted on


Perezs hasty, almost uncontrollable temper.
Vicki started to get up out of her chair, putting a
hand on the table. Something on the table caught her
eye. She picked it up, and began to tremble. She
whirled on Anita.
Seora, whats this?
Whywhyis a little clay figure, thats all.
Perez gave it to me.
What is it?
Is the Double-Rabbit.
It was a Double-Rabbit of orangey-yellow clay,
painted in black arrowhead design. Only one village
in Mexico used that design.
Now Vicki knew. She ran out of the seoras
room, out of the courtyard, and down the hill. She
hailed a passing taxi and ordered the driver to take
her as fast as possible to the Hotel Papagayo. Here
was definite evidence against Perez! Captain Jordan
and Dean should know about it immediately.
The desk clerk at the big Hotel Papagayo had a
message for Miss Barr. Captain Jordan and Mr.
Fletcher had not had time to telephone her. They had
left hurriedly, on a moments decision, right after
arriving from their commercial run, to catch a deepsea fishing smack which sailed far out from the
coast. The sail was a long one and the boat would
not return until early tomorrow morning. And, oh,
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yes, just after the pilots left, a Mr. Arroyo phoned he


had left a Piper Cub at the Acapulco airport. The
Papagayo clerk had, in the pilots absence, given
Arroyo Vickis phone number.
Vicki turned away, very much alone. She trudged
back through Acapulco, passing the poor caf, and
found a taxi which took her back to her hotel. In her
room, she put Cissys letter and a letter from Ruth
Benson unopened into a drawer, to read later. She
was in no mood to read them now: her mind was on
more urgent things. She needed every minute now to
gird up her courage and to think.
The brief twilight, then the festive dinner hour,
dragged by. Outwardly the early evening went
pleasantly as usual at the Monte Azul. Vicki saw
two carloads of travelers arrive, laden with luggage
and silver. But inwardly she sensed a suppressed
violence throbbing all around here. Whatever was
going to happen crept closer and closer, with an
awful inevitability.
Vicki returned to her room and duly put on a
bright yellow dress for the fiesta. Then she went to
the seoras apartment. Anita admitted her. She was
wearing the black mantilla. She gave Vicki the white
mantilla and Vicki laid it across her shoulders. Then
both girls tensely sat down and waited in silence for
Perez.
At nine oclock, as he had arranged with the
200

seora, Perez tapped on her door. Anita stood


behind the door to open it. Perez waited for her to
come out. The seora and Vicki remained
motionless. In a moment Perez entered, not seeing
them at first. Then his eye lit on the mantillas.
His handsome face, already pale with sickness,
turned an oysterish white with rage.
Take those things off! Take those mantillas off
at once, both of you, do you hear me!
Anita cowered back. Vicki put a hand on her arm.
Vickis hand was ice cold.
Good evening, Mr. Perez, she said. Were all
dressed for the fiesta.
You are not going out of this room until you
take off the mantillas! Give me that lace!
He advanced on them, his figure stiff and taut
with rage. He turned on Vicki a gaze of such utter
hatred that she suddenly decided not to provoke him
too far. Not to corner him any more explicitly than
this, not yet. A man such as Perez, in a fit of fury,
might strike back at her with violence.
We didnt intend to go out of the room in these
mantillas, Vicki said quietly.
You certainly arent. No one else is going to see
that lace, no one. Anita. Anita! he shouted at her.
Wh-what?
Didnt I warn you not to tell a soul? Why did
you show the laceparticularly to this girl? Why?
201

Answer me!
The little seora was so frightened she could not
answer.
Stop your bullying, Vicki said to him
scornfully. Here, Anita. Put this away. She took
off the white mantilla and handed it over. Take
yours off, too, and put it away.
The seora put the two mantillas away in the
drawer. As she did so, Vicki fingered the DoubleRabbit, for Perezs benefit. He lost all self-control.
Listen to me, Vicki Barr! he shouted. Put
down that thing! And stay out of the village it came
from! Dyou hear me?
Vicki held her breath. Anitas appalled face
showed that now she understood. Perez, trembling,
made a dour effort to recover himself.
Bueno. The fiesta. Come along, Anita, we might
as well go now.
He held open the door, with his usual polite
gesture. Anita looked timidly at Vicki. But Vicki
said:
No, Im not coming after all. Thanks just the
same.
Perez said stiffly, Good night, Miss Barr.
She nodded as stiffly, and bade Anita good night.
She watched them get into the hotel car and drive
down the shadowy hill. Then Vicki went to stand on
the terrace.
202

She felt afraid, as she looked down toward the


village, gay tonight with bonfires and fireworks. She
knew Perezs hatred smoldered on. He would not
forgive her for this. He might even try to get her out
of the way, permanently. Should she, perhaps, go to
the police? No, that was useless, what could she
say?
Far down the road she saw a truckload of young
people, standing and holding flaming torches. They
sang and laughed in the flickering light. On the
square, a band played and fireworks spurted, while
around it went the slow, stately promenade of the
townspeople. Over their heads, a million unwinking
stars shone down into the town and the sea, moving
no more here at the equator than did the stationary
moon. All night the heavens remained fixed, dogs
barked, roosters crowed, iron church bells clanged,
and the fiesta danced on. Vicki watched a little
longer but the fiesta had become a nightmare.
Finally she turned and went to her quiet room and
shut the door on everyone, everything.
In her bright yellow dress Vicki lay down on her
bed. For a while she lay there, limp as a rag doll.
That Double-Rabbit with its peculiar color and
decoration, on the seoras tablethere was no
doubt where it had come from. Vicki had never seen
another, never in the markets, never in the various
towns where she flew, only in the Indian village.
203

She sat up, realizing she must perform some


simple task, just to keep busy and calm down. She
cleaned her white shoes, brushed her hair, got ready
for bed, turned down the sheets. But still she was not
ready for sleep. She remembered the two letters she
had put in the desk drawer unread.
The letter from Ruth Benson, Federals assistant
superintendent of flight stewardesses, was
businesslike and gracious, and contained some
news. The airline was considering calling Vickis
American crew home sometime soon, in order to let
a second American crew have its chance and gain
experience here in Mexico. Vicki folded up Miss
Bensons letter.
Ill be sorry to leave this beautiful country. But
perhaps I ought to get away from Acapulco,
anyway.
Cissys letter was rather sticky around the
envelope flap. When Vicki opened it, she found the
peculiar look of dried rubber cement. Apparently the
letter had been sealed, opened, and then sealed
again, with rubber cement. Perez? But then Vicki
noticed a P.S tacked on the end of Cissys letter.
Cissy must have reopened the envelope to add the
P.S.none too neatly. Cissy wrote, after exuberant
greeting:
Here Ive been waiting and waiting for you to
notify me of a date for our return trip to that Aztec
204

village. In the meantime, Vicki, why cant we see


each other anyway? My darling Steve has left for
Detroit again, darn it, and Im lonesome in this big
house. If you dont mind my inviting myself, I think
Ill come to Acapulco. Spend a few days with you
while Steve is away. Even if you have to leave on
flights, I can stay on at the Monte Azul and see you
between times. I do need a vacation; have been
working like all get-out at the hospital on my
volunteer job. Besides, I am dying to know if you
have found out anything more about your
mysterious Mr. Perez and what he is up to.
Moreover, I have the answer to some of your
questions, about the telephone conversation you
overheard.
So, unless you wire me not to come, Ill arrive
day after tomorrow. Please dont bother to meet me
or anything, Ill just come straight ahead to the
Monte Azul. Not phoning you because no telling if
and when youre there. Ask for a room for me, will
you, or else move over and squeeze me in! Till soon
and with love, Cissy.
P.S. I loved wearing your shoes. Theyre half
worn out, Im bringing you a new pair.
Vicki smiled. She was pleased that Cissy was
coming. The arrangements were rather casual, but
that was just like Cissy. She wondered if Cissy was
coming by plane, train, or car; the letter did not say.
205

Vicki yawned, and relaxed for the first time in


many hours. Cissys letter had comforted her. The
knowledge that her cousin would be here tomorrow
morning was reassuring, and thank goodness
Captain Jordan and Dean would be back by then.
With the prospect of three stanch friends by her side,
Perez as a threatening figure dwindled. Vicki even
laughed softly.
She turned out her light, and went to sleep to the
quiet splashing of waves.

206

CHAPTER XIV

The Road to Ayutla

Vicki was up by half past six next morning. She


remembered Cissy was an early riser and had a
passion for getting to places not only on time, but
ahead of time. Vicki went out onto the terrace half
expecting to find her redoubtable cousin already
cheerfully sitting there.
The terrace was deserted, except for a boy
sweeping the paving stones with water. He and
Vicki exchanged Buenos das. Everyone else
seemed to be asleep after the all-night fiesta.
Miss Barr! It was Julio Perez, hurrying up the
lower terrace steps toward her.
Oh, Mr. Perez, I wanted to see you.
They met halfway on the steps. Vicki searched
his face for some sign of last nights anger, but he
was inscrutable. Between them was only the polite
impersonality of hotel manager and guest.
I wanted to ask you to reserve a room for my
cousin, Mrs.
207

Mrs. Clayton. Yes. You have a telegram from


her. It arrived ten minutes ago.
Perez handed Vicki a telegram. She opened the
envelope and read the typed message:
MY TRAIN DERAILED IN AYUTLA. NOT A WRECK,
JUST A DELAY. MAY HAVE TO WAIT TWENTY-FOUR
HOURS. CAN YOU COME AND GET ME? CISSY.
Vicki was concerned.
Ayutla is on the way to Oaxaca, the next goodsized town from here, isnt it? Vicki figured. My
cousin has been derailed there. I would like to go
and get her.
Would you like the hotel car? Perez asked
indifferently.
We-ell Vicki glanced around the courtyard,
thinking that if a train was derailed, going to Ayutla
by train was probably out of the question. She
couldnt fly the Cub herself, and Dean was absent.
She would have to drive over to Ayutla for Cissy.
Mr. Perez, can you get me a taxi?
Yes, I can phone down to the village for one.
That will mean the usual twenty minutes wait, as
you know. Or, as I said, youre welcome to the hotel
car. The brakes are in perfect condition now. Ive
just had new brake bands put in.
Vicki mistrusted that car. But it was standing
right there in the courtyard.
Mr. Perez added, I cant send the driver with
208

you, Im afraid. Hes slated to help some of the


workmen this morning. I cant possibly let Pedro go,
not until eleven oclock at the earliest.
Thats all right, Vicki murmured absently. Ill
drive myself. Now, how can I be sure my cousin
wont start off again, while Im on the way?
Julio Perez took a railroad timetable out of his
pocket. Theres no train again for another hour,
even if the derailment permits other trains to get
through. If you drive fast, you should be able to get
to Ayutla within an hour. If you like Ill wire to the
station agent and ask him to get word to Mrs.
Clayton to wait for you.
Vicki thanked Julio Perez with real gratitude. He
replied that it was only part of his job, gave her a
road map, checked to see if the car had sufficient
gasoline. I He filled up the gas tank from a spouted
tin container while Vicki ran back to her room to get
her purse. Then Vicki climbed in behind the steering
wheel, tested the brakes, found them holding firm,
and started off after her stranded cousin.
She drove down into Acapulco, through the town,
and up again onto the main highway, leaving the sea
behind her. She did not like the way the car coughed
now and then, but decided it was the strain of the
mountain roads. It would be safer to drive slowly.
But there was no time to lose; Cissy might not stay
put. Anyhow, Vicki did not want to keep her
209

waiting. She got onto the first big high curve, saw
the road was clear, and increased her foots pressure
on the gas.
The car jumped ahead and went spinning along
the empty, paved highway. For a while, the going
was smooth and easy. She ventured from twenty to
twenty-five miles per hour. The car spurted ahead,
taking the banked curves a little closer to the edge
than Vicki intended, for the drop into the valley was
nearly two miles down.
This old jalopy doesnt come as fully under
control as the cars at home, she grumbled. I ought
to slow down.
A glance at her wrist watch, a glance at the
speedometer said she had no time to slow down. She
kept going, a little nervous at the way the car picked
up speed when she came to the downslopes, despite
her foot on the brake. It was hitting thirtythirtytwothirty-five. Too fast on this road! The brakes
caught firmly and slowed the speed down.
When she came to a slight upgrade again, the car
did not respond as she wanted it to. She shifted into
second.
Doggone this old car. Why does it cough like
that?
She tried to drive carefully. By now the car was
racing downhill again. Almost forty. She swung
away from the mountain edge and drove along the
210

center of the not very wide road.


Gosh, I hope I dont meet another car coming
around one of these curves!
Up and up the road led again. Vicki had to force
the car now. It coughed and slipped. The motor
sputtered, missed a beat: something was not
working. Was the feed line clogged? Or could she
heavens!be running out of gas? By the time Vicki
nursed the car along midway to the top of the
stretch, she was wet with perspirationfrom
physical effort and from worry. She did not want to
get stranded on this mountain highway. At least she
ought to find a place where she could turn around.
Straining, feeling carefully to give it just the right
amount of gas, Vicki managed to wheedle the car to
the top of the hill. She stopped at a flat, slightly
wider point on the highway and got out, shaking.
Maybe Perez had deliberately not told her about
whatever was wrong with this car. Maybe he wanted
something to happen to her. An accident for which
he could not be held responsible. He wouldnt care
about the car. It did not belong to him, but to the
hotel. This could be why he could not spare the
driver this morning.
Vickis suspicions were thoroughly aroused. She
went around and had a look at the gas tank. There
was no sign of a leak, no trail of gasoline. She
unscrewed the cap, poked a long twig in, and was
211

horrified at what she discovered. There was almost


no gas! Less than a half-inch on the twig was wet!
So thats how Perez filled er up, when I went
to get my purse.
Vicki began to figure, staring at the twig. There
was enough gas in the car to take her a few miles
farther, but not all the way to Ayutla. Also there
must be dirt in the gasoline feed line. She sat down
on the running board. A blinding headache and
realization struck her at the same time. Perez
intended her to run out of gas and get stranded on
this lonely road. Perez wanted her out of his way.
Quite by accident, the feed line had clogged and got
balkyand warned her.
Well, it was lucky she was only about ten miles
out of Acapulco. If she shut off the engine and
coasted down long hills, there might be enough gas
in the tank to get her back. If she had discovered this
a little later on, she would have had to get out and
walk.
Was Cissy really waiting at Ayutla? Vicki had
nobodys word for it but Perezs. She recalled the
sticky, resealed flap on Cissys envelope. Why
couldnt Perez have steamed Cissys letter open,
read it, resealed itnothing could be easier, since
Perez handled all the guests mail. Then he could
have cooked up this emergency, this derailed train
story of Cissy stranded at Ayutla, and typed it out on
212

the telegram forms all hotels keep for the


convenience of their guests, the forms which Perez
took to the telegraph office in Acapulco Village late
every afternoon with the outgoing mail. Perez was
shrewd enough to make the faked telegram sound
like Cissy.
And I was to drive to the rescue in a car with
inadequate fuel! Vicki thought grimly. Drive
fast, Miss Barr, he told me. Drive fastalong
mountain roads in an old car with not enough gas!
She stood up in the road. She wasnt even going
to try to get to Ayutla. Probably Cissy was not there.
She was going to turn around and drive back to
Acapulco, slowly and with caution.
Gingerly, Vicki turned the car around and coasted
down this long hill, saving her gas. The engine was
clogged: it coughed and missed a beat every now
and then. But the car did limp along. Vicki used all
her skill, feeling her way, not feeding too much of
the limited gas. Every hill she had to climb was an
ordeal. After what seemed an endless time, she just
made it into Acapulco. She left the hotel car parked
on the village street and took a cab up the mountain
to the Monte Azul hotel.
She thought wryly that Perez would be surprised
to see her. And she wondered what his next move
would be.
213

CHAPTER XV

Escape by Plane

When Vicki got out of her taxi in the courtyard of


the Monte Azul, Perez was nowhere around. Instead,
she caught sight of Cissy on the terrace, in a bright
orange dress and hoop earrings, brown and plump
and bursting with health. Cissy was eating a big
breakfast and trying to convince Miguel, one of the
waiters, that she was not a Mexican girl.
Despite the bad experience she had just been
through, Vicki laughed and felt better. She ran over
to her cousin.
Cissy! Youre all right, arent you?
Cissys shiny black eyes beamed on Vicki.
Flourishing. How are you? She offered her a plate
of toast, as if they had met just yesterday. Where
were you? Still asleep?
Not exactly. Cissy, did you get off the train at
Ayutla?
Isnt that silly! I couldnt get off the train
because I took the plane, and anyhow, I wasnt
going to Ayutla. Was I supposed to?
214

Vicki took a deep breath. Then she patted her


cousins brown, dimpled hand and murmured that it
was a misunderstanding, it didnt matter. She urged
Cissy to hurry up with her breakfast, and quickly
drank a cup of hot, black coffee herself. That fishing
boat generally returned to Acapulco early in the
morning, Vicki remembered. The hotel clerk at the
Papagayo had mentioned it. She said to Cissy:
We have some urgent business. Were going
right down to the village.
Cissy pouted. You didnt even ask how Steve is,
or whether I bought a canoe. Vicki, those new shoes
I brought youtheyre red ones I
But Vicki was anxiously looking around for the
seora. She was, Miguel said, in the nursery giving
the children their breakfast. The waiter reported that
Mr. Perez had left very early this morning, on foot,
and had said he might not be back until late in the
day. I might have known hed duck out of sight
when things came to a head!
Vicki, you arent listening to a word I say.
Vicki lifted her soft blue eyes, the pupils dilated
with excitement. Cissy dear, well visit together
later. Sorry to hurry you, butcome on!
Cissy crammed the last bite into her mouth and
stood up. All ready, she mumbled.
Vicki did not wait to telephone for a taxi. She
almost dragged Cissy down the steep hill, all but ran
215

down into town. There they hopped into a parked


cab and drove to the Hotel Papagayo.
Dean and Captain Jordan were on the palm-blown
dining porch, still in rough sailing clothes and
sunburned brick-red. Both appeared tired, relaxed,
jovial. When the two young women entered, the
pilots stood up and invited them to breakfast.
Thanks, weve had breakfast, Vicki said
distractedly. But wed like to sit down and talk.
We certainly want a visit with Cousin Cissy,
Captain Jordan began. Hows Mexico City, Mrs.
Clayton?
Deans gray eyes twinkled at Cissy in
amusement. Get your canoe?
Vicki cut short the leisurely talk. In a low voice,
which could not be overheard at adjoining tables,
she narrated what had taken place since yesterday
afternoon: discovering the mantillas, the DoubleRabbit, Perezs telltale fury, and this morning, his lie
about Cissy and the empty gas tank.
Three pairs of startled eyes fixed on her. They all
were deeply concerned, Dean especially.
Youre sure youre all right, Vic? he kept
saying.
Yes! A nervous wreck, she laughed a little,
but really fine.
Captain Jordan slapped both hands, palm down,
on the table. My advice is stay out of this
216

dangerous affair. Dean and I just received a letter


from Federal saying were going home in a few
weeks, anyway. So cant you just sidestep
Cissy wailed. Youre leaving Mexico? Oh, Vic!
How soon?
Not immediately, dear. Well, I dont want to
leave, either. But as for forgetting about Perez,
Captain Jordan Vicki shook her silvery-blonde
head. Since Im involved this deeply already, Id
like to try and get real, final evidence about him. We
might find it if we go back to that village. Captain,
she pleaded, I cant back out and leave Seora
Vallejo in the palm of his hand. I just cant do that to
Anita.
The senior pilot disapproved. He argued. But
Dean, Vicki knew from his keen, faraway look, was
already figuring mileage, speed, winds.
Well The Cubs all ready to go. Are we?
Dean said.
He stood up, then looked down from his six feet
at Vicki and grinned. They had understood each
other without a word.
Captain Jordan walked them as far as the flowery
hotel gate. At least, he said gravely, I am going
to notify somebody official around here where you
three reckless kids are going.
The Papagayo was near the airport. They found
the Piper Cub easily. It was shipshape, even its gas
217

tank was filled up. Dean and a couple of Indian


mechanics pulled the little, light plane out onto the
grassy field, beside the sea. Dean climbed into the
cockpit, then Cissy and Vicki got in behind him.
One of the mechanics spun the propeller and stepped
aside.
All ready! Dean shouted above the sputtering
engine.
All ready, Vicki answered.
They took off smoothly and flew over Acapulco,
then past the pink villas hovering on mountaintops.
Dean maneuvered the Cub between peaks of the
mountain ring embracing Acapulco. They flew over
bare, wild country.
Vicki took from her purse Deans map, on which
she had penciled a large X the day they first spotted
the village from the air. Acting as navigator, she
called directions to Dean every few minutes.
That village was pretty close to Acapulco,
wasnt it? Cissy asked. If I remember correctly?
Thats right, near Acapulco, Vicki confirmed.
Vicki looked down at the spiral white ribbons
which were roads winding around the mountains.
She advised Dean that they were almost at the spot.
Then she sighted a deep wedge of valley, coming
into view.
This is it! she called.
Dean grunted. Cissy, peering down, declared she
218

saw only trees and would not recognize there was a


village down there unless she had been told. It
certainly is well hidden.
Hold fast! Dean shouted. Coming down!
The little ship began to bump as Dean circled,
then spiraled downward, gradually losing altitude.
They made a hazardous drop, between two jagged
mountain cliffs. Vicki and Cissy kept swallowing.
Down and down they circled, while the green blur
grew nearer and separated into trees, white adobe
huts, and the remembered cactus fence. Figures of
men in white ran out to stare.
They landed on the flat clay stretch, outside the
circular village. A few Indians walked toward them,
not frightened this time. Dean and the two girls
climbed out of the ship.
Hello! Hello! they cried to the Indians.
Buenos das! Cmo estn?
The Indians remembered the three Americans.
Friendly smiles appeared on their flat, reticent faces
and they answered in Aztec. Beside the whitegarbed men, a few barefoot women in black
draperies now appeared. They wanted to trade, they
conveyed in gestures, and motioned the three
visitors from the sky into their village.
The three went along with the villagers. Dean
said to Vicki, Whats the plan? Cissy, too, waited
for a cue.
219

I think Id like to see that golden chalice again.


And I want to know the leaders name andand
more about him.
When they had slipped through the protective
cactus fence and gained the dusty open area which
served as village square, they halted. Rather
uncertainly they stood in the dust and hot sun.
Villagers ran out of huts and left their grinding
stones, to mill around them, offering their orangeyyellow clay pottery in trade.
Suddenly a hush fell. The tall, brown leader, in
his magenta shirt and white pajamas, stood on the
porch of the adobe church. He motioned the Indians
to be silent and fixed a stony pair of eyes on the
visitors. In Spanish he sternly addressed Vicki:
Why have you returned?
Are we unwelcome? she countered. The last
time we were here, your village did us the honor to
offer us a feast. We have returned for my friends
camera.
The leaders beady eyes bored into them. He
especially scanned Dean. His face betrayed no
expression.
Behind him, in the open doorway of the rude
church, two more men loomed up. Like the leader,
they were taller than the small Indians of this
village, and their two faces were marked with a
cynical wisdom.
220

She said, determined to see the chalice again:


May we come in once more to your church?
The leader hesitated. His face knotted into a cruel
smile.
You are welcome. Come in.
He admitted the three Americans. With his arm
he barred the church to any of the simple, puzzled
villagers. Vicki saw him exchange glances with his
two henchmen. They all entered the shadowy church
and the leader closed the door. He barred it from
within with iron rods. The windows were six-inch
slits.
Vicki began to look around when she felt a
presence. She turned, and jumped at what she saw.
Perez was standing in the shadows.
The leader went over to him and asked, These
are the ones?
Yes.
Good. They wont leave our village in a hurry.
Julio Perez sauntered over. He might have been
elegantly carrying his demitasse and cigarette, only
now a gun dangled from his hand.
Well, our Miss Barr. So nice to see you! Malice
twisted his handsome young face. He bowed
slightly. Mrs. Clayton. Mr. Fletcher. A real
pleasure to have you here. You will stay quite a
while. Yes, a long, long while. I might say forever.
The three Indian men laughed coarsely. Vicki
221

shivered. She felt Cissy fumble for her hand. Dean


beside her was tense and still, but with every nerve
alert. Outside the murmur of the villagers sounded
remote.
Perez barked at the leader, Santos, did you do as
I told you?
Santos! Vicki jumped. So this was the Santos
gang, the heart of it, and no mistake! And the village
leader was Santos himself. Except that Perez, not
Santos, seemed to be in charge. Vicki thought
fleetingly that Santos was a Castilian namewas it
the Indians real name?
Santos in his gaudy magenta shirt was almost
subservient before the dapper Julio.
I did as you said.
Miss Barr, Perez said with mocking courtesy,
you are a visitor to Mexico. You and your friends
would like to see some of our art treasures? Permit
me to show them to yousince they are mine to
show, he boasted. He added ominously, You will
never have a chance to talk about them.
Perez all but preened himself. Master here, he
ordered the three Indians to draw aside a curtain and
unlock a sort of wide closet. He turned to Vicki,
Cissy, and Dean, his eyes glittering.
So you thought I was a poor, humble, little hotel
employee! A servant to Anita Vallejo. So you
thought I wanted to be a mere innkeeper. That, my
222

dear Miss Barr, is beneath a man of my pride and


talents. That talk, that job, is an excuse, a convenient
cover-up for my real business now. For I have
become probably the richest man in Mexico.
Butyou It was the first syllable Vicki had
uttered since entering this dim, locked room.
Outside, voices rose in Aztec.
Yes? Perez bent toward her evilly. Do go on.
She could not speak in her terror. Perez clapped
his hands, twice. The three Indians drew the crude
curtains and unlocked the closet doors. A walllength opening was revealed. There, on shelves, in
careless stacks, jammed to the ceiling and stacked
on the floor, lay laces, paintings, antique books, the
robes which must have been taken from Lace House,
beaten gold dishesthe items tallied with what had
been stolen from Antigua Castle. In the corner lay a
heap of fur coats and, beside them, several new
alligator
suitcases.
Travelers
belongings!
Adjoining, on a crude altar and near the red-andgold Double-Rabbit, gleamed the golden chalice.
Without warning Cissy uttered a piercing scream
that carried easily to the villagers outside. Vicki and
Dean took their cue. They too started shouting.
Outside, voices answered them. The Indian
voices swelled into a loud cry. Fists beat on the door
from the outside. Above the others, a voice cried in
halting Spanish:
223

What are you doing in our church! You are


defiling our church! Get outall of you!
Perez ordered, Keep them quiet, Santos! Cant
you at least keep those simple fools under your
thumb? Thought you said this village was the
perfect disguise?
Over Deans shouts and thumping, and the
growing noise from outside, Santos yelled, I did
not count on this.
Go out and silence them! Perezs face was
harsh. He had begun to tremble with uncontrollable
temper. Go on, I said!
One of the henchmen said apologetically, But
we dont want to open the doorthey may Por
favor, Perez
Julio Perezs face contorted. He pointed his gun.
Go out and calm them! he screamed. Do you
want them breaking in here? Seeing all this stuff?
Santos, you coward, you fool! Are you good for
nothing? Are you afraid of only fifty, sixty people?
They arent the whole Mexican Army! Go out to
them!
The Indian leader hesitated. The two henchmen
cowered back. Perez raised the gun a little, leveling
it at them.
The noise outside went onshouts and crowding
footsteps and a pounding on the door until it shook.
Stop the fighting in our church! came the one
224

mans cry in Spanish.


Theyre trying to storm the door! Vicki
thought.
Dean started for the iron-barred door. Perez
noticed. He turned away from Santos and yelled at
Dean, Keep away from there or Ill shoot! Perez
looked sideways at one of the henchman and
muttered an order. The man seized Dean
unexpectedly from behind, twisting and pinning
back his arms in a jujitsu hold. Perez barked at the
two girls to get over into a corner. The second
henchman moved threateningly toward Vicki and
Cissy.
And still, from outside, the little Indian village
shouted its protests.
Open up, Perez ordered Santos again. Do as I
say!
But they will mob me! They believed in me!
They elected me and never suspected
Perez spat out, What do I care what they
believe! You fool!
Meanwhile Cissy glared at the second henchman
who crowded her and Vicki into a corner. Keep
away from me! Cissy said indignantly. The man
grinned and shook his head, not understanding, not
caring. Without warning, Cissy stamped on his foot.
The man yelped and turned on Cissy with surprise
and hate in his face.
225

In that one free moment Vicki ran. She tugged


and pulled at the iron bars. They gave. She swung
the door open.
Faces peered in. A knot of Indian men pushed
into the room. You are desecrating our church! the
one man shouted in Spanish for them all. Perezs
gun blazed and cracked right past Vickis shoulder.
The confusion and yelling in this small, dim room
was so great that she could make out nothing
clearly.
Except Deans voice, yelling: Run! Run for the
plane!
Cissy! Vicki shrieked. Where are you?
Here! Run!
Vicki pushed her way out of the seething room
through the crowd of angry villagers toward the
dusty square. Cissy was right behind her. She could
not see Dean. Was he still caught in there? The
angry, unthinking mob could be as dangerous as
Perez.
A mans brown face pushed close to Vickis and
stopped her flight.
What they do to you? he demanded brokenly.
What they do in there, in our church?
They wanted to kill us, I think. They She
broke off to stare at him and the other dazed faces
around him. Dont you know?
Know what?
226

You havent heard of the Santos gang? she


asked incredulously.
More faces crowded around. Santos gang, yes,
we hear at market in other town. But who is
Santos?
Your leader, Vicki said.
No, no! His name is Tiohi.
Your leader is Santos himself. The man
translated her words to the crowd and the stunned,
angry villagers made way for her and turned toward
the church, muttering.
Vicki saw Dean then. He had pushed his way
through the crowd onto the church porch. He seized
Vicki and Cissy by the hand. The three ran for all
they were worth out of the village and toward the
plane.
PerezSantostheyll be mobbed! Vicki
gasped out.
They have it coming, Dean muttered. Well
notify the police
Cissy, peering over her shoulder, panted heavily
as she ran. They made the plane, got into it, and
hastily, recklessly, took off. Fifty feet off the
ground, a shot grazed the Cubs tail. Dean kept the
plane going, forcing it up. Spiraling, they looked
down on the village and saw Santos on the roof of
the adobe church, gun in hand, aiming at them once
more.
227

CHAPTER XVI

The Double-Rabbit

They flew back safely to Acapulco. There Dean,


Vicki, and Cissy hurried to the police station. The
police were not surprised: Captain Jordan, suddenly
apprehensive about the three young people, had
called. The police were already doubly on the alert
because of the two robberies, and Ruiz was on the
war path. Interstate troopers had been dispatched to
the Indian village very shortly after the Piper Cub
left.
The three Americans were ordered not to return
to the Indian village. Neither were they permitted to
go now, at noon, to their hotels. Very courteously,
but firmly, Vicki, Dean, and Cissy were detained in
the Acapulco headquarters of the Mexican interstate
police.
Nearly an hour went by. Vicki, sitting here in this
quiet, sober office, imagined a scene of violence in
that village. She shuddered. She hopedfor all that
she detested Perezthat the police had arrived in
228

time. Dean sat staring at his hands. Cissy looked


sick. None of them had the heart to talk.
They waited another hour or more. Then a great
roar of motorcycles filled the Acapulco street. Vicki
heard curious voices, people running, other voices
issuing curt orders. Ruiz, the gray-haired police
chief, stomped in, with a look of grim satisfaction.
Behind him marched eight young policemen,
holding in custody four huddled men. The
sauntering prisoner dressed all in white was Julio
Perez. Santos and his two henchmen had to be
dragged along.
More minutes went by. Vicki, Dean, and Cissy
were not summoned. They saw the airline official
arrive, then the elderly, agitated custodian from Lace
House. Captain Jordan came in, saw them, and after
giving his name to the clerk, sat down on the narrow
wooden bench with them.
Well! The big pilot was angry with them, trying
to hide his concern. Did you have enough?
Yes, said Vicki faintly, I guess we did.
Ruiz sent a trooper to the door to motion them in.
They went into a large office where Ruiz sat at a
desk, dominating the room. Perez sulked in a chair
at his right. The three Indians were immobile and
expressionless as brown statues. A court
stenographer unobtrusively took up his place at a
table.
229

The proceedings began. It was afternoon when


they started, and dusk by the time Ruiz had dragged
all the facts from the four stubborn members of the
Santos gang. The other persons present were
questioned briefly from time to time. No one was
permitted to leave this locked office during the long
session.
The story was this: Santos, the Indian whose true
name was Tiohi, was the village son who had left
the village and grown rich. Gone several years, he
returned to dazzle his village and hadsomewhat to
his surprisebeen acclaimed mayor, or leader. He
was flattered to be looked up to by his village and
for a time Santos honestly fulfilled his trust as a
village official. But after a while the prestige of
leadership no longer was enough to satisfy his greed.
Santos hit on a plan whereby he could hold on to
his agreeable position and, at the same time, turn it
to account. Rounding up a handful of unscrupulous
menthe two henchmen from his own village and a
few from surrounding valley settlementshe
organized a secret gang to hold up travelers on the
lonely mountain roads. The village was perfectly
located for such a purpose, since the highway could
be reached by foot or by burro, but was far enough
out of sight so that the villagers never suspected. No
one, in the village or out, guessed that such a gang
existed.
230

The occasional robberies went so successfully


that Santos grew restless for bigger jobs, a better
organized plan. By chance, one day in Acapulco, he
met Julio Perez, who for ten years had been working
as a hotel manager. Perez was getting nowhere,
dissatisfied, drifting, and was willing to listen to any
proposition that came along. Santos had a
proposition. Since the Santos gang preyed on
travelers, especially tourists, it would be useful to
them to know which travelers carried wealth, and
when and where they were traveling along mountain
roads. Perez, being a hotel manager, possessed this
information. All Santos asked was that Perez point
out the likeliest victims. He would be well paid.
Perez accepted.
As the money rolled in, from the sale of seized
travelers goods, Perez began to ask himself why he
should work hard at running a hotel, when it was
possible to grow rich effortlessly, by racketeering.
Little by little he egged the Indians on to bigger,
bolder thefts. It was not hard to do: Perez was a man
of infinitely more education than these simple, if
shrewd, backwoods peasants. It did not take long for
Perez to become brain man of the gang, and then
for the real leadership to pass from Santos to Perez.
The first of the really big jobs which Perez
conceived and planned, and the Indians executed,
had netted them the golden chalice. With childlike
231

delight at his success, Santos superstitiously offered


the chalice in thanks to his Aztec god, the DoubleRabbit.
Meanwhile, Julio Perez kept his job as manager at
the Monte Azul because of the information about
travelers which it yielded for the gang. But he kept
the job chiefly because it provided a respectable
front to hide his racket. Under questioning, Perez
admitted that recently, when the police caught two
of their men and then went on a man hunt after the
Antigua robbery, it looked as if his racketeering was
over. Sick with fear, he had hastily decided to marry
Anita Vallejo and gain possession of the Monte
Azul. But he had wanted the hotel only as an
emergency measure, when the easy money seemed
to be cut off.
It was Perez who had planned, and the Indian
gang who had carried out, the robbery at Lace
House and the one at Antigua Castle. The mantillas
Vicki had seen had been taken from Antigua Castle.
Perez now admitted he had presented them to
Seora Vallejo to further his mercenary courtship.
He risked this because he felt that Anita, always shy,
could be intimidated into keeping the mantillas
secret.
It was Vicki, Perez admitted, and those two
other troublesome Americans, with a plane, who by
poking their noses into the Aztec village spelled the
232

beginning of the end for the Santos gang. On their


first visit, Santos had learned that they came from
Mexico City, a long distance off, and therefore
thought they would never return. Santos did not
anticipate the Americans transfer of residence to
Acapulco. He had merely reported their first visit to
Perez.
As for the camera which Dean had left behind in
the village, Perez was more cautious than Santos. He
had the films developed, partly out of curiosity,
partly to have a look at the visitors who, Santos
reported, snapped each other.
Then when Vicki turned up at the Monte Azul,
Perez was afraid. Santos had said the Americans
were inquisitive about the chalice. Perez, knowing
they had gone to the valley once by private plane,
feared they might take it into their heads to go
againif only to try to recover the camera. And
Perez did not want Vicki ever to make a return visit
to the Indian village.
For the loot was locked away there, unknown to
the villagers. It was brought in secretly under cover
of night, hidden in large burlap sacks of grain. Perez
planned to smuggle the historic antiques out of the
village, out of the country, and sell them abroad.
The men mentioned in the telephone conversation
Vicki overheard in the next room at the Mexico City
hotel, were Perezs agents for this purpose. They
233

were then being sought for evading customs.


When Vicki saw the snapshots on Perezs desk,
she had remarked that she and her two friends would
doubtless be flying back into the hidden valley.
Perez decided then that Vicki Barr and the pilot
Dean Fletcher, with his all-too-nimble plane, had to
be put out of the way. At Perezs order, the Santos
gang tried to bring her commercial plane crashing
down. The valuable cargo aboard that day was an
added plum. But they failed. Perez was so enraged at
their failure that he vented his displeasure on the
seora, and made Vicki all the more curious and
hostile. Then, when Perez overheard Vicki plan the
Taxco trip, on the Monte Azul telephone, the Santos
gang attempted to waylay her car just outside of
Taxco. That failed, too.
The day Arroyo telephoned to say he had brought
the Piper Cub, Perez began to lose his head. He was
already worried sick. Shortly before that, the gang
had delivered some of their loot to him at the hotel,
a thing he had strictly forbidden. He had taken the
stuff to Santos at the caf rendezvous, but he knew it
was terribly dangerous and a major mistake. (Had he
known that Vicki had followed him, he might have
taken even more drastic measures.) In his panic,
Perez had steamed open the letter from Cissy,
thinking that if only he knew more about Vicki and
her plans he could figure out what to do. Cissys
234

letter had given him just the chance he thought


would solve everything. He decided to trick Vicki
into taking the hotel car. When, later, Anita showed
Vicki the mantillas, Perez knew even more certainly
that he must get rid of this troublesome American
girl.
That night at the fiesta, under cover of the crowd,
Perez met one of the two henchmenwhom he
regularly met in the Acapulco caf. Perez instructed
him to have bandits lie in wait for Vicki just outside
Ayutla. In the morning Perez had typed a fake
telegram and reduced the gasoline supply. He knew
the hotel car; he knew that this small amount of gas
would be just enough to carry Vicki to the lonely
stretch where the Santos gangsters would be waiting
for her. Vicki would have to get out and walk.
Members of the gang, scattered on foot along the
lonely road, would find her before she ever reached
Ayutla. The pilot, Dean Fletcher, would be taken
care of later. So would Cissy Clayton, if she made
trouble.
Vicki listened to this with her blood running cold.
She looked at Santos. The Indian was obviously
frightened. At a sharp question from Ruiz, he
admitted he feared the villagers anger at the
desecration of their churchusing a holy place as a
cache.
Perez answered one more routine question. To
235

reach the almost hidden valley from Acapulco,


Perez drove by carthe hotel car or one of the
gangsters carsalong the highway to the point
above where the village lay, two miles below.
Usually one of the gang members was there to meet
him, with a burro for the rocky descent. If not, Perez
struggled down on foot. Perez went seldom, for it
was so difficult to get in and out of the village. But
its very inaccessibility made it the perfect cache for
the stolen treasures.
Today Perez, after sending Vicki off to Ayutla on
a fools errand, had hastened to the Indian village.
He felt the noose around his neck tightening. If
Vicki was killed, the hotel manager would likely be
questioned. If Vicki returned alive, the game was up.
Perez had intended never to return to the Monte
Azul. He planned to hide out in the Aztec village
until agents, with whom he was already in
communication, could smuggle his antiques out of
Mexico. Then Perez himself was going abroad to
sell the treasures, and live the rest of his life on this
wealth.
Perez had not counted on the three Americans
returning to the Indian village just when he was so
close to success. Yet, he admitted, when they
appeared today, he thought it a providential chance
to silence them all forever. Thus he had boldly
boasted to them, and paraded his wealth. Where
236

Perez had made his mistake was in underestimating


the Indian villagers. He had thought of them all
along as stupid, spiritless, blind dupes and little
better than work animals. He had placed them too
low, and himself too high.
That was all.
Julio Perez and the three Indiansall that
remained of the Santos gang since the recent police
arrests of other memberswere marched away to
prison cells. Perez wept as he was led away.
Everyone else in the room was dismissed. Vicki
overheard Ruiz instruct the police stenographer to
send a copy of these minutes to the American
Embassy in Mexico City.
Vicki wearily followed her two pilots, with Cissy,
out into the street. It was tropic twilight, with
moonlight streaming on the still-blue Pacific and the
west ablaze with red and gold.
The four of them stood there, too tired to talk.
Shall we take you up to the Monte Azul?
Captain Jordan offered.
Thank you, but well take a cab, Vicki replied.
Please go rest, Capn. You look as exhausted as the
rest of us.
Dean nodded wearily but Cissy said brightly that
she wanted to go swimming. A swim will revive
us. Besides, Ive got a great big chiffon
handkerchief. Bet I could catch a fish in it!
237

Cissy, youre unsquelchable, and Vicki tugged


her by the arm to a taxi, calling good-bye to her
pilots.
At the Monte Azul, the little seora ran into the
courtyard to meet them.
You are all right, Vicki? You, Seora Clayton? I
have hear. The whole town has hear. Oh, I am so
afraid for you.
Vicki murmured that everything was all right.
She went to the terrace, the seora and Cissy at her
heels, and sank down into a chair in the breeze. The
seora anxiously bent over her.
Im all right, honestly, Anita, I am. But tell
me
Anything!
Cissy discreetly walked away to lean over the
balustrade.
Anita, you dont feel hurt oror heartbroken
about Perez, now that the truth is out? You werent
really falling in love with him, were you?
The seora looked ashamed of herself. I should
have listened to you. Even at the moment he gave
me the mantillas, something in me said Anita, you
are fooling yourself about this Julio. I only half
believed his soft words. And I believed only because
I was so lonely and wanted to believe here was a
romance. Like when you know quite well something
is not true, but you pretend it is true becausewell,
238

because you have nothing better. Fooling yourself.


Youre well rid of Perez, Vicki consoled her.
The seora nodded. I know.
They were silent for a few minutes in the
gathering dark.
Anita, will you do something for me?
I should love to do anything at all for you!
Would youwould you give me the DoubleRabbit? To keep? Id like to take it home with me,
as a memento. Ill need the Double-Rabbit, back
home in the United States, to remind me that these
fantastic things actually happened.
Anita ran off in the shadows and presently
returned. She pressed into Vickis hand a small,
cool, clay figure.
Vicki laughed under her breath. The DoubleRabbit. The image of an Aztec god. A savage god to
whom human beings were offered as sacrifice.
Thats what Perez planned to do to me. Only his god
was wealth, wasnt it?

239

CHAPTER XVII

Adis! Good-Bye!

On the day Federal Airlines summoned them home,


Vicki said a deeply felt good-bye to the little seora.
She was sorry but satisfied to leave now that Perez
could no longer threaten Anita.
In her heart Vicki was saying good-bye to this
brilliant seaside town, too. She would never again
smell jasmine without remembering the jasmine
bush here with its blossoms growing like stars, nor
forget the small wine-red carnations of Mexico, laid
on quiet altars. Nor would she forget the mariachi
singers with their guitars, nor the fiestas, nor
swimming in the calm blue Pacific.
One dazzling hot morning, with Dean, and Cissy,
who had come for another visit, she climbed into the
little Piper Cub, bound for Mexico City. As usual,
beside their plane, cows grazed in the deep grass.
Captain Jordan was riding to Mexico City as a
passenger in one of Federals silver ships. They
waved au revoir to him, and took off. It was just
240

time for the morning swim as their plane rose.


Vicki looked down on Acapulco, hating to leave
it. When they flew right over the Monte Azul, she
saw little Anita on the terrace scanning the sky for
them. Dean flew on over La Caleta beach, through
all the blueness of sky and water and air. They
soared past the first ring of mountains. Acapulco
was out of sight. Gone!
Whats the matter? Cissy asked.
Inothing. Cissy, you must come to visit me.
Youll come back to Mexico. Someday.
Vicki nodded. And chaperon you, she joked
weakly. Despite all that had happened with Perez,
she did want to come back to this beautiful country.
Vicki turned, lips parted, suddenly breathless.
They were flying into the most fantastic world of
clouds. If great fountains had frozen, they might
have taken such lovely forms as theseor were
these like strange, white-coral shapes that grew on
some ocean bottom? A second later, Vicki thought it
was a garden of enormous, nebulous flowers, such
as never grew on land or sea.
But this is the sky, she reminded herself, as all
her love of flying surged back. Here at noon she was
in a different world, a sky-world; she forgot the
green earth which had given her birth. Vicki felt as
if she had been reborn and existed completely anew
in a new element: air.
241

Cissy shook her by the shoulder. What are you


dreaming about?
Its thisthis cloud ballet.
Cissy fixed her with the same suspicious glance
that Ginny so often used. Youre crazy, said Cissy
affectionately.
Not nearly so crazy as you are! And Vicki
hugged her erstwhile chaperon.
Then she turned again to watch out the little
planes windows. There were simply no words to
describe the thrill of flying. Feelings came alive in
Vicki for which the earth and sea had never taught
her names.
I want to do more flying, lots and lots of it!
She saw, from a distance, the Sleeping Lady and
Popo. Their plane passed the legendary lovers. A
short time later they were flying low over Mexico
City, then landing. Dean left the Piper Cub in the
hangar for Juan Arroyo, and they left farewell
messages for him. Vicki checked to see that she had
the Mexican books, silver bracelets, blouses,
huaraches, for which her family had asked
everything except the parrot Ginny had requested.
Steve Clayton was at the airport station to meet
them. It had to be hello and good-bye, good-bye to
Cissy, too, right there at Buena Vista airport For the
American crew was scheduled to board immediately
a huge airliner which would carry them back to the
242

States.
Adis! Good-bye! they all cried. Cissy and
Steve remained standing and waving behind the
visitors wire fence. Vicki, Dean, and Captain
Jordan climbed up the gangplank in the sun, stooped
through the low door, and found seats in the plane.
From her small, curtained window, Vicki waved
once more to Cissy. But not for long. The big ship
taxied off along the field, found its direction, then
glided off and up.
The white metropolis below them spread for
miles in the sun. Vicki bent to take a last,
remembering look at Mexico City. But
superimposed on the white, Latin city she seemed to
see New York, and the gay, laughing faces of her
flight stewardess crowd. And beyond them, in the
heart of the United States, she saw Fairview and the
faces of her mother and Ginny and her professor
father, and Freckles galloping in front of The Castle.
Vicki was not sorry to be going home. And yet
and yet
This was my first trip abroad. Vicki smiled to
herself, as the plane headed north over mountains.
But it wont be my last! Its only the beginning.

243

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