Fourteen hours and two stops later they landed on a hilltop near Quepos, Costa Rica. The sun was just beginning to rise. In the past a car would be waiting for Kip, not this time.
Marcos gently eased the airplane onto the grass runway. “Looks like it gets some use. The tracks are clean.”
“Thanks man.” He shook Marcos’s hand and handed him the envelope of cash that Ivan had given him. “Money probably for my execution in Caracas. I held back a grand,” he laughed and then Kip stepped out of the Cessna but before he closed the door he asked, “Where you headed to now?”
Marcos grinned. “ About fifty Kilometers to San Jose, I need petro, breakfast, and a nap. Then on to Mexico with this beast; I’m flying back first class though. At least that’s what the contract says.”
Kip latched the door and stepped away from the aircraft as Marcos turned the plane and accelerated down the short runway. It would be five years before He would see Marcos again.
The morning heat was beginning to creep up the mountainside so Kip found a shady place out of the brush and sat to figure his next few years. The view from the mountainside was fantastic. The walk to the village would at best be difficult in the heat of the day, especially with no water. Kip found a number of fruit trees and spent the morning cutting up fruit and talking to an interested monkey. As the sun finally faded in the western skies and hid behind the mountain jungle he began his long downhill trek. He walked carefully, measuring his steps as his six foot two inch torso edged though the dirt on the steep grade. He could image stepping on a root and then tumbling down the mountainside.
Stars began to appear in the sky and Kip listened to the moon filled night. The previous quiet of the jungle surrounding the airstrip was almost as disconcerting then as it had been replaced with the song of the night. The howl of night monkeys and birds might have been more calming if his walk were shorter. He let his eyes adjust to the darkness before leaving the airstrip access road and starting his walk down a wide path that made up the jungle road. Kip had never traveled the road any way other than in a car to the village, although, he had gone this way several times in the past, but never on foot without bright lights to guide him. Finally, his feet hit the semi hard surface of a broken asphalt road. “Well, in retrospect I could have had Marcos call for a taxi.” He laughed to himself and continued walking down the steep road.
Kip had walked several kilometers down the paved and gravel road toward the village of Quepos when he paused. “A few lights in the valley. Okay, gotta keep moving.” He knew there was minimal lodging and for American cash, few questions asked. In the distance he saw car lights turn a corner on the road below him. “Hmmm.” When the fast moving vehicle approached going up the hill Kip stepped into the brush, praying he wasn’t about to sit on an Iguana or a snake.
The car careened past the turn off for the airstrip and continued to the other side of the hilltop. Kip could hear the engine whining through the hills. “That’s interesting.”
He walked for another hour until he came to a small church on the outskirts of the village of Quepos. A light was on in the rectory so Kip started to knock on the door. He figured that a kindly priest might invite him in for a drink of water; a frightened priest might shoot him or call the police. Kip took a chance on the first thought. The door was setting ajar so he pushed and it opened.
An elderly appearing priest was slumped in a far corner his face against the wall; a trickle of blood was running from his nose, lip, and forehead.
“Padre,” Kip shouted.
The priest didn’t look up.
Kip grabbed a towel off of the sink and ran water over it then rushed to the priest’s side. He carefully put his arm around the man’s shoulders and dabbed the damp cloth on his lips and forehead.
The priest leaned his head on Kip’s arm and rolled gauzy gray eyes up at the stranger holding him. A tear appeared in the corner of his eye and began to run down his cheek. “American?”
“Si, Padre. I’m Kip Waller. What happened?”
He looked quizzically at Kip.
“What's going on?”
The priest managed a grin. “Bandits.” He spoke in Spanish by Kip understood. He took a breath but still appeared unsettled, “No silver find here.” His hand pointed at the wall. “We are very poor."
Kip helped him to stand and then sit at the wooden table.
The priest felt his own nose and head and used the cloth to wipe his face again. “Thank you, my son.”
Kip settled onto a small stool next to him. “No probem.” Kip tried to speak English slowly hoping the priest would understand. Though he spoke Spanish, feigning a language problem had advantages. “Probably drug runners.”
The priest nodded. “Yes, drugs.” He chuckled, “No drugs here. Have Aspirin and Iodine.”
The priest lifted his head from the damp cloth. What Kip noticed most was the tired eyes of the priest, the heavy eyebrows caused his now blood smeared brow to droop. However, the priest became somewhat alert.
“Better, Padre?” Kip asked.
The priest acted as if he didn’t hear Kip, but tried to look out the window. “No car?”
“I walked,” Kip said in Spanish.
“No Padre, I walked down the mountain toward the village.” Kip tried to illustrate with his hands.
Priest grinned and pointed upward. “Ah. Hear plane. First long time in long time except on weekends."
Kip nodded, “Mo wonder the runway looked used, weekenders.”
The priest only smiled.
Kip started to stand but the priest took Kip’s hand. “Por favor. Aqui este noche. Tengo casa por tu?” He asked Kip to stay and that he had a house for Kip.
He must have had a reason, Kip figured, maybe for his protection or perhaps he guessed Kip’s own circumstances. Kip nodded to him and the priest slowly stood, he was a small slight man, stooped as if a heavy load was on his shoulder. The dark brown robe only looked like a burden on the priest’s frame. He motioned for Kip to follow as he opened a back door. Kip followed, keeping pace with old man, though the priest carried no flashlight he didn’t stumble but moved slowly and carefully up a slight hill.
The priest stepped up on a porch and then opened a door. The cabin seemed to be one room, with perhaps a closet, a sink, and a bathroom with only moonlight it was hard to tell.
He turned to Kip. “Quédate aquí, habla mañana (Stay here, talk tomorrow).” The priest walked out the door without another word.
“I guess he wants me to stay and explain everything tomorrow.”
Luckily, Kip’s cell phone was charged and he used the flashlight app to look around. “Ah, light.” Indeed, there was a cot with a folded blanket, a small sink on one wall and a cafe table with one chair centered in the room. A narrow mysterious door guarded a tiny toilet, with a slit of window over the commode. The next door was a closet of sorts—a collection of everything from toothbrushes and mouthwash to cleaning detergents; it looked like a collection of every hotel and motel sundries donated by travelers.
“Well, either he is protecting me, or holding me for the police, either way I get a place to sleep.” Kip rolled the blanket for a headrest and reclined on the cot intending to listen for revealing night sounds. He stared at a window cobweb for a few seconds, but his eyes faded and he didn’t awake until the sun blazed through the fogged glass window. “Wow. I haven’t slept that hard or well in months.”
The old priest was in the kitchen when Kip approached the door; the priest apparently saw Kip’s approach and set a plate on the table, but when Kip walked the kitchen he pointed to the bathroom and handed him a blue shirt. Kip got the message. “Thanks Padre.”
After he bathed and put on a clean shirt he walked back into the kitchen and was greeted by a very pretty young woman, whose striking appearance caused him pause. “Well taken care of,” he said to himself.
“I’m Rosa,” she said. Although her English was a bit accented it seemed clear. “I help the father with cooking and cleaning. You are the stranger he told me about. He says you saved his life.” She looked over at the priest and said something Kip did not hear. “He let you stay in the traveler’s cabin. Sojourners often pass by when traveling and visiting monks have used the cabin too.” She was tanned and had dark brown eyes that twinkled when she spoke. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail and she appeared to be about chin high on Kip, but at two meters it was hard to tell. Kip guessed her to be late twenties to early thirties in age; the sunlight highlighted her facial features, however, in his experience he was never good at guessing women’s ages, especially Latinas. She brushed the front of her blouse revealing a well-developed womanhood.
Kip must have blushed because he felt his face grow warm. “Well,” he mumbled. “I came in after the damage had been done. I think I saw the get-away car though. I’m Kip Waller, by the way.”
Her eyes lit up with fire. “Those drunk fools. They come into the cities for women and then think they’re macho and get an idea to rob a priest. Lowlifes.” Her English was educated, but her look was Tico.
Kip nodded toward her. “You haven’t always lived here.”
She smiled and Kip’s heart melted. “I took English in school, and then I married an American when I was eighteen, lived in the US for twelve years. Now I am living here for about two years plus a few months. My husband is wherever husbands go when they desert their wife.” Her tone had turned bitter. “Our daughter went with him.”
“I see.” Kip didn’t know if that meant she was divorced or just separated, but elected not to go any farther with the topic.
“Now, why are you here?” She quickly reversed the conversation. “The father says you were dropped off by an airplane up on the mountain.” She eased herself into a chair and her broad flowered skirt flowed beneath her. A yellow tucked in cotton blouse completed her outfit. She looked like a page from ‘Women’s Day’ magazine.
Kip cleared his throat. “Some folks think I’m better off by not being in the States right now.”
She looked at him curiously. “Oh? Running from the law?”
He shook his head. “Not exactly.”
“Exactly what then?” Her eyes suddenly changed to a squint.
The Father touched her arm and murmured something in a Spanish idiom Kip did not understand. He glanced up at Kip. “Lo se (I know).”
Her countenance changed back to a soft friendly face. “The father says you’re CIA. Is that correct? Is that why you’re here? They usually have big black American SUV’s that are clumsy on our roads.”
“Not exactly, I mean, maybe once upon a time, but really, I’m just here to disappear.” Kip figured truth would be less evasive and easier to communicate than some made up tale.
She raised her eye brows and then looked up at the Father and said, “Es cierto que es un espía,” the priest nodded toward her; and then she turned back to Kip. “The Father still thinks you’re CIA, they’re the only ones who used the airstrip at night; a airplane club uses it on weekends, the night landings were years ago. But, you’re running away from something or somebody. Right?”
“Something like that. And we landed in the early morning.”
“Okay, I’m done playing the game, you can run away, be CIA, or whatever.” She stood and smoothed her skirt again. “I think you need to leave here as soon as possible. If indeed you’re some government agent, criminal, or Santa Claus, I don’t want the father involved. Understand?”
Kip nodded. “I need to get into town though.”
The priest glanced at Rosa and then walked to a hook on the wall and handed her a set of keys.
She took the keys and walked toward the door. “Come with me. I’ll drop you off on the main road, you can take the bus or a taxi.”
“Okay.” Kip hadn’t eaten the fare the Father had put on the table. However, like a bad puppy he followed her out to a beat up old two-door Suzuki.
“The Father’s car.” She pointed at the car.
“Oh,” he said.
She opened the driver’s door. “Donated to the church by an expat leaving the country. Uh, the Father doesn’t drive, but has the car available for parishioners to take to doctor or airport, yeah the real airport.”
“I see. Well, I need the bank, specifically. Publica bank.”
“Not in the village, but I’m going to San Jose tomorrow for some business, the big one is there, you can ask about branches. You have a hotel?”
Kip laughed. “Hardly. Besides I really need someplace isolated.”
“So you can do spy stuff?”
“You think that’s funny? That’s what you are, isn’t it?”
“No Rosa, like I said, maybe once upon a time, but only thing I want to spy on is a bed, a shower, and breakfast. I want to buy a computer, probably a laptop, maybe a radio, a few clothes, and set up house somewhere. I really don’t want to bother anyone, just sit for ten or twelve years.”
They drove silently for a couple of minutes down the gravel road.
She stopped the car. “You’re really planning on staying in Costa Rica? There’s residency restrictions you know, besides, you arrived illegally.”
“I know all that. Yeah, I need to stay for awhile.”
“We’re going back to the church. My car is there, I have an idea.” She turned the Suzuki around in the middle of an intersection.”
“The church car won’t go far, but the Father wanted you to take it because it is a junker and nobody pays attention.”
“My car is a real estate car, it has signs on it.”
“You sell real estate?”
She grinned. “Uh huh. You’ll look like any one of the gringos I haul around to sell overpriced houses or rent beach condos.”
“Good, I’ll be a client.”
“Really, you have money?”
Kip detected a slight smile.
“You have a passport?”
“Publica Bank,” Kip repeated.
“Okay, we’re not playing twenty questions again. You’re here illegally. Sooner or later somebody will find out. You’ll love Costa Rican jails.”
“That’s why I need to get to Publica Bank.”
“I don’t understand and don’t care.” She steered the car around a curve, the small church came into view. “But, you can do whatever, I don’t care and don’t really want to know.”
“Well, all of my credentials are there in the bank.”
“Okay tomorrow we go to San Jose. Tonight you’ll stay with my family.”
Kip looked surprised.
“Don’t get any funny ideas. I have a small rental quarters in back of my house. I usually rent it out to Tico students, but nobody is in it right now.”
“My turn to ask a question. Why are you doing this, what I mean to say, helping me?”
She slowed the car. “Father Luis told me to. Besides, I sorta believe you. There’s a lot of escaped souls here. We’ll switch cars, and then I’ll take you to the apartment. You stay there until I get back from Mass, and I’ll bring you some lunch. You know today is Sunday.”
“No, I didn’t know today was Sunday. But, okay, so I’m renting your apartment?” Kip leaned on the door and stared at the woman driving.
“Tomorrow, if you have money and a passport, maybe, we shall see. Right now you are leaving Father Luis’s house, period.” She parked and exited the car. Kip followed her to the opposite side of the church and saw her red Toyota Forerunner parked along the road. Large realty signs were attached to the side of the Toyota.
“Get in, while I take the keys back.” Rosa took long strides to the rectory while Kip climbed into the Toyota.
They rode in silence through the streets of Quepos, until she pulled in the driveway of a white non descript low cottage, a small house was erected on the rear of the property.
“The door is locked, but if you lift the first stone on the walk you’ll find a key.”
Kip got out of the Forerunner and began to walk up the slight slope. When he stopped and turned she drove away without looking back. He pivoted and observed his surroundings. “A Tico neighborhood; working class,” he judged. Every cottage was about the same white plaster. “Sure enough,” he stooped and lifted the first paver. “Ah ha.” A key was nestled in a hole in the paver. “Alright, this place looks to be a step up from the Padre’s cabin.” He unlocked the door and stood in the entryway. Well, it has a separate bedroom. He stepped in and looked in the second doorway. “And, the bath has a shower.” He switched on a light and an overhead fixture came on. “Good, the electricity works.” The living/dining room consisted of a small square table and two chairs placed along one wall along with a hotplate and a small refrigerator. Opposite was a red and white vinyl couch and a well used, high backed, Queen Anne side chair. Kip looked at his cell phone. “No service. Why didn’t I notice that before? I haven’t even got a charger cord of course no service at least with this carrier, wonder why it’s not roaming.” He walked to the small closet on the back wall. “Okay a clothes rod with four wire hangers, also a shelf with a variety of cleaning products. Apparently this is a self-catering rental, there’s broom and a mop with bucket, plus several brushes and lookie there, one roll of TP, I really need a sundries and TP run to the store. Okay basically, a furnished apartment,” he mused.
He walked across the room to the armchair. “Well, I guess this will do.” Kip relaxed in the worn chair. “Hey, this thing was a once a recliner of sorts, but the footrest is not supported and it doesn’t tilt back. I might be able to fix that.”
“Fix what?” asked a tall heavyset dark man standing in the open doorway.
Kip’s first thought was of the banditos at the church. “Uh, I think this chair used to be a recliner.”
“You’re an American.”
“Yes. Just renting this apartment.”
He didn’t move from the doorway. “You know Rosa?”
“Met her at the church. Father Luis introduced us.”
“Oh, you know Father Luis, now I understand.” He chuckled. “Father Luis would give away the church, and often tries to. I watch over Rosa. She’s my little sister and I live next door. We usually have local students in the apartment. You’re not here long? I’ll talk to Rosa.”
Kip knew exactly what he was saying. He wanted a gringo, clear of his sister, if he only knew that was exactly what Kip wanted. No personal relationships. “She’s taking me to San Jose tomorrow to settle some financial matters.”
“I’ll be taking you. Rosa doesn’t drive in the city. You just get to ride along. She needs to go to Walmart and see her lawyer.”
“Okay.” Kip had nothing else to say.
“I’ll loan you some sheets and a blanket. Doesn’t look like you have any luggage. I’ll throw in a towel. Last renter left some clothes, I’ll stick’m in a box, they were about your size. But, no need to give them back, wear them and then trash them.”
Kip looked around. “Might say my luggage was lost by the airline.” In truth all his belongings were in an apartment in Colon. He had only packed an overnight bag to go to his meeting at the airport in Bocas. His apartment in Panama was semi furnished but a friend said she would ship everything if he moved, he figured it was the last he would see any of his clothes and equipment because he didn’t give her another address, believing his career would be centered in Panama and he would not be moving so quickly. “I need to go to Publica Bank. That’s part of the financial things I need.”
The big man nodded and left the doorway.
At noon Rosa knocked on the door. She had a basket of breads and meats plus a bottle of what appeared to be wine. “I thought you’d be hungry.” The big man was standing behind her, he had a stack of sheets, blankets, towels and a big cardboard box.
“Well, since I haven’t eaten since yesterday morning, you might say that.”
“I have some things for you,” said the big man. He pushed in and set the box and soft goods on the table.
Rosa looked over her shoulder and smiled. “I see you have met my brother Paulo.
Kip tried to smile. “We met.”
She sat the basket on the table and picked out several plates of breads and fruits to put next to the basket before turning and walking toward the door. Paulo had already placed the towels in the closet so he simply watched his sister from outside the door way before the big man finally walked off, but Rosa stayed. “Mr. Spy. Two big ugly men in suits came to the Mass somewhat late. They were pushing through as people were leaving. They finally cornered Father Luis and asked if an American had landed at the airstrip and had the man contacted him or anyone. I had to translate. He told them he was attacked and robbed by men last night and he didn’t ask their nationalities. They left, I don’t know where they were going.”
To be continued ....