Tuesday, April 26, 2011

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: "Her Lover is Quite the Snake!"

Just before one p.m., the driver pulls up in front of the four-star hotel that Jerez insisted on booking for her from Sevilla. The Granada Palace, ocher red and full of exotic tiles, is located, oddly enough, directly off the Camino de Ronda. Had he selected this hotel because of the name?

Two busboys in immaculate blue and gold uniforms are waiting at the sidewalk to carry her one bag. Ronda bows her eyes, her headache a little less severe. Certainly this elaborate reception doesn't have anything to do with me, she decides. It has everything to with Jerez, and the fact he called ahead. Inside, she steps up to the desk and gives her name.

"Oh yes, the Jerez reservation," the man behind the desk says quietly.

"No, señor, actually, it's my reservation," Ronda corrects him in irritation. "Señor Jerez simply put the call in for me. I intend to pay my own bill."

The man in the gray suit glances at her in silence.

"We will take care of everything," he says, handing her the plastic key card. He doesn't smile and neither does she.

Inside her room, she finds two dozen roses waiting: one dozen yellow flowers sits in a thick crystal vase on the bed stand, and a bouquet of long-stemmed red roses is beside the Jacuzzi in the bathroom. On the dresser are a small bottle of perfume and a large bottle of red wine and beside those is an enormous basket filled with fruit and cheese, a tin of cookies, several large bars of chocolate, and a bottle of Tío Pepe.

Ronda sighs, rolls her eyes, and throws her things on the bed. "Doesn't this man know understand the word no?" A small white envelope in the basket contains a card: "At your service, señora. With affection, Enrique."

Grumbling and tearing up the card, Ronda sinks onto the unmade bed and picks up the phone. "If he thinks he can lure me into bed with wine and chocolate, he...might be right," she says, laughing out loud. She shakes her head. "Men."

She dials the first of the three phone numbers Galvarez had given her the night before. "One of these musicians should be able to help you," Galvarez had promised at the end of the show, after all the other guests had left the club. A dark-skinned man with curly sideburns and a narrow earnest face, Galvarez sat on a tall stool in between Ronda and Jerez, sipping a beer.

Crossing his arms over his broad chest, he listened calmly as Jerez explained Ronda's dilemma. First Jerez spoke to Galvarez in English and then, after Galvarez asked him a quick flurry of questions in Spanish, Jerez shrugged and leaned forward and answered his friend at the same speed. Ronda had no idea what either of the men were saying.

The two men fell quiet and then Galvarez rubbed his chin and sipped his sherry and eyed Jerez in a way that made Ronda nervous. Jerez lit a cigarette and offered one to his friend.

"No, no, thank you, I gave it up," Galvarez said. He turned to Ronda. "My dear señora, as I have already told you, Jesús Becerra is...well, let me say it this way, he was, when I knew him, quite the snake."

Galvarez spoke in a deep bellowing English. "I wonder, señora, if you are quite sure you are making the right decision trying to find this rogue or if perhaps you wouldn't be better off taking a plane home and leaving him to his own devices."

Ronda's eyes flew wide open and she blushed. Blood drained from her limbs all at once, and anxiety rushed up to fill her stomach. "I am...Jesús is my...I...I didn't know you knew him so well..." she said weakly, looking up at Jerez, who shrugged. It took her a moment to continue speaking.

"I have to find him," she said, her voice rasp. "I don't know what you know about Jesús, señor Galvarez, or why you refer to him as...as a snake, but you should know sir, Jesús Becerra is a man I love deeply, I have loved him and he has loved me for the last year. We have a wonderful relationship and...and if he's in some sort of trouble or...or if he's hurt or if you know something I should know, well then, certainly please, go ahead and tell me...but...but I just have to find him."

Galvarez shifted on the stool and twisted his lip with his fingers. Then he inhaled slowly. "I didn't mean any disrespect, señora," he said after a moment had passed. "And as I make it a rule not to get involved in matters that have nothing to do with me, well..." He rose abruptly from the stool and disappeared behind the stage and as he did, Ronda turned to Jerez, who merely shrugged and nodded.

"I'm sorry, Ronda, but I know nothing," Jerez said, looking sincere.

Soon Galvarez was back, carrying a small thin book and a pair of bifocals. Slipping on the eyeglasses he began flipping through the yellowed pages of the directory until he reached a heavily marked page. Ripping off a piece of the white paper table cloth covering the tiny bar table, Galvarez scrawled three names and phone numbers in an oversized handwriting, using a thick fountain pen. "Señora, when you call these people, be sure to use my name."

"I will," Ronda replied breathlessly, her head swimming in sangría and the horrible words she had heard from him a few minutes before.

"Thank you. I am more grateful than you know."

Galvarez pushed the piece of paper across the table. "If your guitarist is anywhere in or around Granada, he can't hide from these folks for long," Galvarez said. He rose abruptly again and tipped his head and drained the last of his beer. "As for you, Jerez, please don't be a stranger." And with that, Galvarez was gone.

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