Chapter Fifteen of Casco Viejo, the Second Season is the final chapter of the first draft of this novel-in-progress. Craig Weincek the author had this to say.
"I want to thank all the people who read the chapters as they came out.
Others waited for a few chapters to accumulate and then read with more continuity. Some didn't enjoy reading on the computer or lost track of characters due to the time between publication of each chapter. (These were real and valid problems.) Well, now the first draft is complete, so anybody who wants to can read the book the whole way through; and printing it out isn't that expensive. Anyway, I fully intend to revise and I would gladly welcome any comments, suggestions or offers to publish.”
Click the 'Read More' for Chapter 15.
Inspector Gomez sat stiff and upright behind a large teak desk. Beni, “a rather smart up-and-coming lawyer,” as Mitch had pointed out to Barb, was not so sure the meeting was a good idea. However, Barb insisted, even though the main problem was that she didn’t have enough proof to implicate anyone in relation to poor Beth Page’s murder. In fact, while most of her suspicions had been well founded, with a list of at least a half a dozen suspects, she had no real evidence, like witnesses or inadvertent confessions, to actually point at one particular person.
“So what do you want to accomplish?” was Beni’s question.
“I thought maybe we could compare notes,” Barb said. “Okay, I don’t really know much after sticking my nose in everywhere I could. And it’s not as obvious as I first thought. I realize that; but now they don’t even have a suspect in custody. Frankly, I’m afraid that the authorities might not be as aggressive as maybe they should be—oh I don’t know—possibly because the victim is a gringa.”
“Whatever you do, please don’t even imply that,” Beni said, with both hands out in a double stop sign.
“I want to light a fire under their butts,” Barb said, actually pounding one tiny fist into her other tiny palm.
Beni laughed. Maybe he thought she looked cute. “All right,” he said, “but let’s go slow on the confrontation and encourage rather than demand. Okay?”
“Sure,” Barb said. “I’m new at this—I’m an amateur…”
“Exactly,” Beni said, never losing his polite smile with this elderly woman, he and his wife had taken under their wing, and who he genuinely liked.
“…but I’m trying to be a concerned citizen here,” Barb continued, “in my adopted country, to see to it that justice is done. That a fellow expat can’t just be bumped off, you know, without consequences. To be honest, I would feel much safer, not only knowing that Beth’s killer was behind bars; but that people like Beth and me and others would matter to the police as much as any other victim.”
“Well then we don’t have to go,” Beni grinned, “because I can assure you that we third-world Panamanians value life almost as much as you Americans.”
“Oh, I am sorry, dear. That did sound awfully condescending. Of course, they’re doing everything they can; and I’m sure I’ll be reassured. You’re such a dear to indulge me so. And you do speak English.”
At that they both shared a laugh and Beni put his arm around the petite woman’s shoulder.
So there they sat in two straight-backed institutional metal chairs facing an unsmiling police detective, who had told Beni on the phone, beforehand, that he would have the meeting as a favor to the young lawyer, but that he suspected it would be a waste of time for everybody involved. The office was small and bare, with the wide desk almost cutting the room in half. Centered on the white-washed cinderblock wall behind him in a virtual halo effect was the coat of arms of Panama with a very American looking eagle perched on a shield. Inspector Gomez’s head blocked the pictures on the crest, and Barb had to look later to see the rifle and crossed sword; the shovel and pick axe; the panorama of the isthmus; the cornucopia and the flying wheel—all draped by the red, white and blue Panamanian flag.
After very formal handshakes, and before he sat down Barb noticed that even though he seemed somehow grand and imposing, that Gomez was not a big man, stocky but no more than 5’10”. He looked across at the little lady detective with stern dark brown eyes, under heavy level eyebrows. His hair was black and short cropped. He was not in a uniform, but rather a plain-clothed outfit of a white shirt, with a thin black tie and gray slacks, which meant that he still looked like a cop to Barb.
“So how can I be of service?”
Even though the tone of voice was of one who was tired of being of service, Beth was shocked the words came out in English. She decided not to make a point of it, though she did exchange a quick glance with Beni, who did not seem to take notice.
“First of all, thank you for meeting with us,” Beni was quick to interject, before Barb spoke.
“I’m a friend of Beth Page, who was brutally murdered in her own home, and I was wondering if you would be so kind as to update us please on the progress of the investigation.” Barb immediately worried that she was coming across as pompous. (Mitch often said “If you think you are, you probably are…”)
Gomez sighed and looked directly at Beni and said, “We are pursuing a number of leads at this point in the investigation.”
Barb sensed that the discussion was headed nowhere fast and said. “Listen I know you are, and we all appreciate everything you’re doing I’m sure, but could you be a bit more specific. I’m not sure you realize that I’ve spent some time myself looking into the matter.”
“Oh, we are well aware of the fact that you have contacted some of the same people we have during our investigation. In fact there have been complaints.”
“Really?” Barb was surprised. “Can you tell me who?”
“No,” Gomez said. Once again, he looked directly at Beni, who sat impassively, in a light grey sport jacket and blue shirt open at the collar.
“Listen sir,” Barb stood up and leaned with both hands on the desk. Her thin arms stuck out of a pale yellow shirtwaist dress. “All I’m trying to do here is help. I want to make sure that whoever killed Beth doesn’t get away with it—that justice is served.”
“So much for not being confrontational,” Beni thought, and then said “Maybe you could simply update Mrs. Multusky on your progress so far?”
“Well, first of all, I must say that I resent the implication that we have not done enough to provide Mrs. Page with the justice she deserves…” Barb could not get over how well the inspector spoke English and wanted to ask him how long he had spent in the States, but didn’t think that was the time, since she apparently had already pissed him off.
“Listen Jorge,” Beni said in a calm but professional voice, “we are not implying anything and we have every faith that you are performing your duties.” (“So his name is George,” Barb realized.) “I believe that all Mrs. Multusky is asking for, as a concerned resident, is information, an update if you will, about the progress you have made.”
“We have made very little progress,” Gomez said. “Our problem is this. There is no evidence, besides the bruise marks on the victim’s neck, which help to establish a cause of death, but are not fingerprints and so only indicate that whoever did it was strong enough to commit the act. Otherwise, plenty of fingerprints of people who readily admit that they had visited the victim; and yes hairs, and what you call forensic evidence that only prove that Mrs. Page had visitors. No witnesses and so far the suspects all seem to have reasonable alibis, which do seem to check out. So, unless you can tell me something new that implicates a reasonable suspect…” Gomez let his voice trail off.
“No. That’s exactly what I’ve discovered so far,” Barb said as if she were consulting with a colleague. Barb’s attitude both worried Beni and made him proud of his dear old friend. She was giving it a shot. “So why did you arrest Jamon?” Barb asked even though she thought she knew the answer.
“We had hoped that maybe whoever did it, would how do you say drop their guard,” Gomez said, almost as if he were conferring. “And of course, he was a viable suspect.”
Then Barb and Gomez ticked off the list of boyfriends, who they felt weren’t up to it for whatever reasons, including Jerry Cole, who Gomez dismissed as “not in the city.” There were still two names that had not come up—Billy Belize and Rodrigo Feliz.
“So who do you think did it,” Barb said as she sat back on her uncomfortable chair.
“Because of the lack of a sign of a struggle, no foot prints in the garden, no physical evidence, all the appropriate doors and gates locked; really nothing out of place that it might not have been a crime of passion.”
“Was anything missing?”
“No. So we’ve ruled out theft.”
“You mean that it was a professional hit?” Barb was back on her size-five feet.
“Well, Madame Detective has acquired some of the language of her new hobby,” Gomez said, still without a smile. “And with very little evidence to the contrary, we have to consider all the possibilities.”
“How about Billy Belize?”
“Out of the country.”
“He could still hire someone.”
“So could, anyone.”
That’s when Barb tapped her finger on the desk and said, “Okay, how about Rodrigo Felix?”
Gomez went back to looking directly at Beni Cortez and said “No evidence; no proof. So, how about Mr. Multusky? He’s a big strong man.”
“But he doesn’t have a motive,” Barb said without skipping a beat.
“That we know of,” Gomez countered with a wave of his hand that showed the flash of a large gold watch on his wrist.
“But that leaves us pretty much at square one,” Barb almost whined.
“It is however, not because we’re not making an effort,” Gomez said as he stood up. Meeting over. “If I were you Madame, I would leave the investigation to the professionals; and I will assure you that we will do everything that we are able to bring this case to a suitable conclusion.”
“Back to official non-speak,” Barb thought as she rose and offered a dainty, fingers-only handshake. “Thank you very much for your time,” Barb said without enthusiasm. She noted that Inspector Gomez did not ask her to let him know if she found out anything. It was clear he was done with her. She suspected that he had done a competent job of looking into Beth’s murder, but was also convinced that he wasn’t losing sleep over the case either.
“Muchas gracias,” Beni said injecting the first Spanish of the session.
“No promblema,” Gomez said.
Barb couldn’t resist. “Your English is better than mine,” she said. “Did you go to college in the States?”
“Florida International,” Gomez said, “and a law degree from Georgia.” He then shut the door.
* * *
“So why don’t you come with me to yoga class today,” Barb asked as she took off Carmen’s choker chain, just back from their afternoon walk, which Mitch always called a “smoke break.”
“Okay,” Mitch said as he kneaded the space between one white and one black dog ear.
It took a moment for the positive response to register with Barb, who had asked before. Mitch always laughed and said something like “Not me baby,” or “you go ahead and enjoy yourself, I don’t want to get in the way,” or simply “Nope, not today.”
“Are you kidding?” She really wasn’t sure.
“No, I’m not kidding,” Mitch said. He stood with his hands on his hips.
“Okay, that’s great,” Barb said. However she thought “Oh, wow honey, you must really be bored.”
When Mitch spotted Barb having extra thoughts, he offered in explanation, “To be honest, I’m kinda curious. I’ve never done yoga. Don’t worry I won’t get in the way.”
“Don’t be silly,” Barb said. “You can’t get in the way. Everybody has their own space.”
“So you don’t think I’ll slow down the class,” Mitch said.
“You go at your own pace. There are almost always new people or beginners. Nobody will even notice.” Barb smiled.
“I’ll stay in the back to make sure they don’t,” Mitch said.
Barb tried to clear her mind of lingering suspicions and concentrate on her yoga class with Tony Perdu, up on the roof of Columbus House. The class wasn’t meeting on the terrace of the old Union Club anymore because that structure looked to be under major renovation. In fact, most of the old building on the shore had been gutted and the huge terrace, with what Mitch called “the best view of the city across the Bay of Panama,” had been torn down. The sign outside promised a beautiful new boutique hotel right on the water with what looked, based on the artist’s conception, like a much smaller terrace out back. “Well, at least, there’s still some sort of terrace in the plans,” Mitch pointed out.
The problem was that Tony’s classes were popular and the twenty to sometimes thirty mostly middle-aged women students were able to spread out across the broad space facing the sea. Sure it got hot sometimes, especially in the morning sun light, but the evening classes allowed for cooler breezes and pink skies over the waves of the Pacific. The roof on the other hand, sectioned off with a small swimming pool, bar area and the air-conditioning units was a much tighter fit for the nearly two dozen participants. At least there was still a breeze and a sea view off in the distance. Mitch was situated next to the large air compressors, right behind the only other man in the group, Allen Myers. Barb hadn’t seen Myers for a while. He was still a suspect, but not a prime suspect, and she wondered how he was doing. Both men had on similar outfits, college tee shirts—Michigan State green and white and red with “Stanford” written across the chest in white; old rumbled Bermudas; and short golf socks. Each had a pair of white running shoes with blue stripes off to the side. “A couple of old jocks,” is what Barb thought.
With “the guys” behind her, Barb, in a plain yellow scoop-neck tee shirt, thin cotton work-out pants and tiny bare feet, wouldn’t have to see if her husband was behaving himself or not. She had other things to think about, while Tony began the class with a brief series of warm up exercises including head and neck rolls and shoulder shrugging.
“Oh my, Mitch is going to think this is silly,” Barb thought. As usual Tony looked like a member of the American women’s soccer team, with her hair tied up in a pony tail. Her tanned arms and legs shown against her orange tank top and tan short shorts. In fact, at first, Mitch did think that the mountain pose, which was basically standing up straight, was “pretty darn easy.” Then however, when Tony Perdu noticed that he had his bent-leg foot on his knee in the tree pose, she said it either had to be held all the way up against his thigh or back down to his calf. At that he lost his balance.
Without looking around, Barb knew that it was her husband who was receiving extra instruction and she took a certain degree of pleasure in knowing that she was able to move from the table pose to the cat and then release to the cow pose smoothly and gracefully even, while her husband huffed and puffed on his hands and knees. When they moved into the downward facing dog, Barb was sure she recognized Mitch grunt as he attempted to do as Tony instructed and “push your butt into the air and push from your hands not your wrists.” Then during the bridge pose as Tony in a thin, soft voice told everyone “come back down, one vertebra at a time. Slowly, don’t flop down,” Barb was sure she heard the sound of a large man flopping. She was able to naturally spot Mitch while the group posed in warrior two. He looked big and powerful with his feet spread apart, one toe pointed and his long arms extended out at shoulder height, which would have been over Barb’s head if she were closer. There was no way, Mitch was going to be able to twist his long legs into a lotus position, but she could make out his voice from the crowd when he responded to the teacher’s “Namaste,” with a breathy “No mas tee,” of his own.
While she did believe in the stress reducing qualities of yoga, Barb was surprised how peaceful she felt, with her small, slender hands folded in a prayerful pose, as the group chanted “Om” three times. It wasn’t until she lay flat on her back in the so-called corpse pose with her arms out off to her sides, that her mind wandered once again to her failed attempt to solve the mystery. She found herself feeling deep regret, but it wasn’t because she couldn’t name Beth’s murderer. She wasn’t a professional, and as a civilian, knew that she would have to get lucky; and so far that hadn’t happened. Her main regret had to do with Jack, who had put her in the who-can-you-trust position. The answer, while she was supposed to be cooling down and relaxing out, was apparently nobody. As the class came to a close it was a reality that made Barb sad.
At the back as he and Allen tugged on their shoes, Mitch confided to his compadre that “that wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.”
“I know,” Allen, whose red face stretched all over his shaved head, said. “At first, I was in class just to meet women. Hell, that’s how I met Beth. But I found out it’s quite a strange workout. Just posing can be strenuous.”
Directly over Allen’s sweaty shoulder, Mitch spotted his little wife with a surprised almost frightened look on her face as she listened to what Tony, the yoga instructor, had to say. Perdu had a stern look and wagged her finger in Barb’s face. “Shit,” Mitch wondered “what can that be about?” By then, Barb was striding toward him. By the time she got to him, he could tell by the simmering look in her eye that something was up. Barb actually grabbed his elbow and was turning him toward the stairwell, when Allen attempted a “Hello, there senora detective.”
To which Barb responded with a curt, “Hello Allen. We gotta go.” She stopped at the first landing and turned to Mitch and said, “Well, that’s that. I can’t go to yoga anymore.”
“Oh, shit, why not? I kinda liked it.” Mitch was trying to make a joke though he knew he was only postponing finding out what Perdu had to say. “So what’s up?”
“Well, little Miss Tony, yoga, peace-on-earth, told me that her husband, you know, the never-here rich guy, with lots of investments in Casco Viejo, or so we’re told, from Poland or Russia or where ever, had a warning for me.”
“He did? We haven’t even met him, have we?”
“No we haven’t,” Barb said, “but we’ve been warned just the same.
“Was it to keep your husband at home?”
“No. This is serious.”
“Okay, what was it about?” Mitch had no idea.
“To stop sticking my nose in business that is none of my affair.”
“Did she say that?” Mitch was surprised.
“Yes, she did.” Barb had been caught by surprise as well.
“Did you ask her what she was talking about?”
“Yes, I did. And she kinda softened and said that her husband, still no name, was worried about me. That what happened to Beth was none of my concern and that he thought I would be wise to mind my own business. And then she said, no kidding ‘listen darling, my husband says you’re in way over your head’ and she says ‘please take care of yourself,’ end of quote.”
“Oh, fuck,” Mitch said.
“I forgot to tell you, by the way, that the detective Gomez guy told me there were complaints about me asking around,” Barb said.
“He wouldn’t say.” Barb shook her head from side to side.
“Well, let’s get outta here,” Mitch said with his arm looped around his wife’s should. “There might be spies.”
“You know the peace and tranquility I’m supposed to feel after yoga?” Barb said, and then when Mitch nodded; “Well, I’m not feeling it.”
On their way home, the Multuskys stopped at a bench in a small park overlooking the beach. Behind them there was a large municipal parking lot, taking up some of the most valuable waterfront space that Mitch had ever seen. A small fountain gurgled in the center of the triangular park that was bordered on the third side by a sidewalk that led back to their apartment. Apparently, at one time a convent was located where an apartment building now stands across the street because the name of the park is Baluaarte de Monjas, which roughly translates bastion of the nuns.
“How did Mr. Perdu, if that’s even his name, know that you were involved in what has to be described as an informal investigation,” Mitch wondered out loud.
Barb couldn’t resist lighting up a cigarette and through a puff of smoke said, “And I was also wondering who could have possibly complained so Gomez knew.
“I know I wanted to complain, but not to the police. So, I’m pretty sure we can eliminate Allen, who doesn’t really believe he’s even a suspect; and I doubt poor ol’Joe Berger is doing anything to keep his name out front; so do you think it was Jamon?”Beth slapped his arm. “And how could your boy Jack complain when he’s been part of it; so it has to be that prick Jerry Cole.”
“Yup, I think he might have complained, especially after you gave him the bum’s rush; but he’s small potatoes and I doubt if he’s running around with Tony’s husband.”
“So, who’s left?”
“Exactly,” Barb said as she flicked her cigarette butt over the rusted iron railing bordering the beach below. “I never for a minute thought I could trust that creepy lawyer Billy Boar and now I’m convinced he knows more and is involved more in whatever happened than we’ll ever know.”
“That’s the problem isn’t Sweetheart –‘than we’ll ever know…’” Mitch took his wife’s hand in his that looked like a baseball mitt in comparison. “We’ve just been warned by one of the big guys.”
“I know,” Barb said. “I was already worried that I might be getting in over my head, like Tony said, but now I’ve been formally warned, by somebody who shouldn’t give a damn about me or the investigation.”
“Yup, it’s over,” Mitch said.
“Maybe,” Barb said as she looked out at the flat calm sea.
“Definitely,” Mitch said. “Listen Barb, I can’t protect you when I don’t know who we’re actually talking about. Right now, you don’t know shit, which is probably a good thing, because if you did, oh, I don’t know what.”
“What bothers me is that somebody is going to get away with Beth’s murder.”
“Yeah, I think that’s awful,” Mitch agreed as he stood up with his arms out in a shrug, “but we’re not equipped to deal with the situation.”
“I know,” Barb said. “I had that realization the minute, the second, I turned around and walked away from Tony. I don’t know if she was being a Good Samaritan or just a messenger, but the look on her face had something to do with the fact that I didn’t know her husband or his friends and had no conception of what I was getting into—a business that actually cost a friend of ours her life.”
“Not only that; and I don’t like the idea either; but while we’re facing up to realities; we need to keep in mind that we’re living in a foreign country.”
* * *
It was nearly two months since “Barb stopped going to yoga” when Mitch was walking Carmen around Simon Bolivar Plaza, right in front of the Church of St. Francis.
Seated at a table under a large umbrella in front of the Casa Blanca café was Joe Berger. That wasn’t surprising. What was out of character was that while Berger nursed his usual bottle of Atlas beer, a leash attached to a small dog, that looked like a mix between a Chihuahua and several other breeds, was hooked to the leg of Joe’s chair. Naturally, the Chihuahua mix started a yappy barking session, the minute it noticed Carmen prancing by. All black and white confidence, Carmen might have been surprised when her human headed in the direction of the yapping.
“Hi,” Mitch said. “Where’d you get the dog?” Carmen immediately assumed the cobra yoga position and looked as if she wanted to play with or at least tease the other dog. Both approached each other warily, but soon were nose to nose. Mitch stood while Joe sat.
“Oh, that’s my girl friend’s dog; actually my fiancée’s dog. Name’s Pepe; a little male.
“I guess you’ve already met Carmen here,” Mitch said.
“Oh, indeed I have,” Berger said, with a nod and a smirk aimed at Mitch, until Joe realized that the big lug might not know about the alleged kicking incident.
Mitch wasn’t thinking about dogs. He couldn’t believe that this guy was actually going to marry that little whore, whatever her name was; and with an obnoxious dog to boot. So just to make sure, he asked “So who is the lucky lady?”
If Joe realized that Mitch thought the answer was going to be a pole dancer prostitute from Columbia, he didn’t let on. It had been a while since Bebe wandered out of his life. “Her name is Anita, Anita Jimenez. She’s Panamanian/American. She actually grew up here in Casco Viejo, then married an American service man lived in the States for thirty years until he died and then she returned here.”
“Hey, well congratulations man, that sounds great.” Mitch meant it too. He really never got to know Joe that well, but he didn’t wish the bitter life of a jilted gringo at the hands of a young gold digger on anyone. “So I guess that means you’ll be settling down here in Casco,” Mitch said as he shook the fellow’s hand.
“Nope, she’s not happy here. She misses the States, actually more than I do.” The point Joe didn’t make was that he wasn’t happy in Panama either, but would have stayed to be with Anita, a sweet undemanding woman, who treated him with kindness and who he loved and appreciated. “So yeah, we’ll be moving back after the wedding—Florida probably—she’s got as much family there as here and that’s where I’m from.” Full circle.
“I guess you’ll be starting up your sports agent business again?” Mitch was shooting the breeze. “Do you have any prospects lined up?”
“Actually, I was never a sports agent,” Joe said. Even though he tried to make his admission sound nonchalant, he almost choked on the words. “That was all bullshit.” Carmen and Pepe gingerly circled sniffing each other’s tail. Soon the two leashes were tangled.
“Oh, really?” Mitch was disappointed. He liked the idea of knowing somebody involved with professional sports.
“I’m so sorry. I thought I would impress people. It was fucked up.” And stupid.
“So what did you do?” Mitch wasn’t angry, or peeved and not really surprised. In fact, Berger, a real average guy, never impressed him as the type of slick dresser/fast talker that he assumed would be the type to negotiate big league contracts; but once again he took a person on his word. “I may have to stop doing that here,” Mitch concluded.
“I managed a discount retail store, until it went out of business and closed and I was laid off. Somehow, I didn’t think that would impress anybody, so I decided to reinvent myself and as you can see it didn’t work.”
“So whatta you going to do, I mean back in Florida?” Mitch was retired with plenty of time to chat and knew he had to get all the details because Barb would want to know.
“I guess I’ll try to get a job in retail, and hopefully work my way back up to a management position. I won’t be able to retire anytime soon, since I’ve used up a lot of my money down here; but she’s got a pension and office management skills and we’ll survive. We might have to live with her family for a while.”
“That won’t be pretty,” Mitch said with a straight face, until he noticed the worried look on Berger’s mug and let him off the hook with a grin. They both laughed. At that Mitch sat down and hooked Carmen’s leash on the leg of his chair. Both dogs curled up under the chair of the men who had the leashes. Joe gave the waiter the two-sign with his fingers and soon both guys sipped their beers.
“So how’s it going with you?” Berger was always awkward with conversation but thought it was worth a try. “How did your wife’s investigation turn out?”
“The same as the police, so far,” Mitch said with a shrug of his broad shoulders.
“That’s a shame,” Joe said. “Listen, you guys never really thought it was me, did you?”
“Why whadya mean?” Multusky said, again with a straight face. “Did you do it?”
“Oh shit, of course not,” Berger blurted, before he once again spotted a sly grin of the big guy’s face.
“Gotcha. You’re easy, you know that?”
The two men clinked glasses and chuckled, each to himself.
“So is the investigation over?” Joe did wonder since he realized he was a suspect.
“Suspended indefinitely,” Mitch said. “I’m afraid that Beth’s murderer will never be brought to justice.”
“So who do you think did it?” Joe inquired.
“Can’t say for sure,” Mitch said with a note of finality in his voice.
“That’s a shame.” And it was too as far as Joe was concerned; and as far as Mitch was concerned. Nobody deserves to die alone in a far away land. “So what are you guys up to now?”
Mitch leaned back and took a slug on his beer. “Barb and I have decided to see more of Panama—you know—see the sights, travel around. I think we’ve come up with a good plan too. We’ve advertised on a couple of web sites, uh, PanamaToday.com and Panaplaces and we’re going to house sit for people and mostly dog sit really. Lots of expats down here can’t or don’t want to stay all the time and we’ll look after their dogs and bring Carmen along for the ride and we’ll live in different locations. We’re already lined up for a two-month stay in Boquette, up in the mountains and maybe three months in a beach place in Santa Clara.”
“Hey that sounds great.” It did too. Joe even felt some of the old envy creep back in like it used to whenever he heard about somebody else’s good fortune; but he tried to shake it off. “That should keep things interesting.”
“While still feeling like retirement,” Mitch noted. Then he realized that Berger was returning to work, and said “I’m sorry; but I guess that’s the way it is.”
“No, I understand,” Joe said. “You guys deserve it.”
“Not really,” Mitch said. He didn’t believe they necessarily did deserve it but as he said that was the way things seemed to work out.
“Hey listen,” Joe said and then hesitated. “If I invited you and Barb to come to my wedding, would you come?” Joe immediately recognized that it was a very awkward way of extending an invitation.
Mitch also appreciated the awkwardness and decided to joke it away. “Well, that’s pretty darn hypothetical. I’m not sure what we would do, if we happened to be invited.” Mitch knew that by taking that approach, he was implying that he would accept if invited, but that was okay, unless Barb really objected; but she was a sweet, forgiving woman.
“I’m sorry; would you please come to my wedding?” At that moment Joe really wanted the only guests, to whom he even considered extending an invitation, to come.
“No.” Mitch said. Then after enough of a pause to get Berger one more time, “Oh, okay, I’ll have to ask the boss, but I’m sure she’ll think it’s a good idea.”
Two friends on the groom’s side are better than no one.
When Berger arrived in Panama, he had high hopes—the wrong hopes—that he would fool people into liking him. That since Panama was a place where it seemed that a number of people from other parts of the world were coming together and beginning new lives; that he would be able to invent a new life for himself as well. Wrong. Yes, there are opportunities for big payoff investments and scams in one of the only booming economies left. Yes, many people are open to making new friends, since they’ve left their comfort zone behind. And yes, new lives and new identities are being invented in a place that seems to welcome such reinvention, a place that didn’t really have an identity of its own, cut in half by a canal owned by a foreign power; a country ruled by dictators, until recently. Every year, some magazine lists Panama as one of the five best places in the world to (a) visit; (b) retire; or (c) invest; but not for Joe.
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