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Death Mask of the Jaguar

Harley-riding PI, Rick Sage, follows his heart into darkness once again when he meets up with ten-year-old Pedro, a Mexican-American kid lost on the streets of Tijuana.

Pedro hires Rick, with the two dollars and thirty-five cents he has left in his pocket, to find the gang of antiquities thieves who murdered his parents.

Shadowed by a jaguar spirit Rick begins to believe is real, his promise to help the boy takes them on a trail leading from Tijuana to the Copper Canyon, then on to Mexico's Mayan ruins at Palenque, and down a jungle border river into Guatemala.

Along the way, Rick and Pedro join up with a beautiful but mysterious red-headed nun, and a magical, fleet-footed Tarahumara shaman.

Haunted by his own tragic childhood, Rick is determined to fulfill his promise to Pedro to find the murderers and recover the Jade Death Mask of the Jaguar Cult, as they are drawn deeper and deeper into a dark plot lit only by the beacons of a jaguar's eyes.

Book 2 of the Rick Sage Mystery series

A Hard Shell Word Factory Release

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Murdoch Hughes

Murdoch Hughes has lived his adult life along the West Coast of North America, from Mexico to Alaska's Aleutian Islands. However if he were to call a place home it would be Seattle, walking her misty streets at night with the ghosts of her past, while sipping the dark espresso of her present, and scenting the seaweed and cedar dreams of the area's long Native American history.

He lived for six years on Unalaska Island, in the Aleutian Islands, working as a fisherman and a marine engineer. Then he sailed for two years with his wife Jan on their thirty-two foot sailboat, Hunter Star, down the Pacific Coast and into the Sea of Cortez, exploring the many islands and coves of Baja California Sur, Mexico.

Swallowing the anchor and moving ashore, they lived for four more years in the beautiful, peaceful city of La Paz, near the tip of the Baja peninsula. It was there he wrote his two Baja and Mexico based Rick Sage Mysteries: Murder In La Paz, and Death Mask of the Jaguar.

Murdoch is presently living and writing in the Seattle area.

Coming Soon...
Excerpt

Prologue

THERE WERE NO visible stars and no moon. The high clouds reflecting Tijuana’s halide streetlights made the landscape look like another world. Maria Twillingham felt alienated, as if the airplane landing lights roaring toward them out of the amber sky were something ominous.

“Here comes another one,” she said anxiously.

“Yeah, I see it,” her husband said.

“Peter, I don’t know how Pedro can sleep through this noise. Maybe you should go back and check on him. He might be scared.”

“Nah. The kid can sleep through anything. Besides, he can talk to us through the camper’s back window if he needs us. Relax.”

“Relax? How could I possibly? You’ve got us parked out here in a dirt field off the end of the airport runway, waiting for some stranger who probably won’t show up. And you tell me to relax?”

“Maria, he’s not some stranger, like I met him on the street or something. I found him on the Internet. He’s an expert on antiquities. He deals in artifacts and he can read those Mayan hieroglyphs I copied off the map. He’ll show up because I promised to give him and the guy at that shop first crack at the Mask when we find it.”

“If we find it.”

“We’ll find it. Think positive. Think of it as an adventure. It’s going to make a great story for our friends when we’re rich and famous.”

“Right now I wish we were at home, safe in bed.”

“Maria, you should have gone into the mask shop with Pedro and me and seen the look on that guy’s face after I mentioned the lost Death Mask of the Jaguar. When I told him I was the one who found the map in an old book, he got right on the phone and called the expert. He was so excited.”

“Peter, I know all that—you’ve told me at least ten times now. But I don’t think you should have gone around telling people about the map. I don’t trust anyone who wants you to meet him way out here in a dirt field.”

“Don’t be so paranoid, Maria. It’s a soccer stadium. Look, there’s the grandstand...there’s one of the goals down there. Maybe he’s eccentric, but guys like that have to be secretive. Even those art dealers who handle the paintings of the great masters—they all act like secret agents. That’s what makes it so exciting.” Peter lit a cigarette.

“I’m glad you think so. I’m scared. If you weren’t scared, too, you wouldn’t be smoking so much. I can hardly breathe in here.”

“Well, if you’d let me roll down the windows...anyway, I’m not scared, I’m excited.”

“Maybe you’re right. I’m sorry. I feel nervous out here. Go ahead and roll down your window if...”

Maria’s voice trailed off as the lights in the sky grew brighter and the roar of the engines increased. She’d have to shout over the scream of the engines, and Peter never listened to her anyway. At least not since he’d found his crazy treasure map and dragged them off on this wild goose chase, closing the bookstore and packing them up in this camper like migrant workers. She wanted a better life than that for her son. Hadn’t she escaped this sort of life once?—

Her thoughts were erased as she closed her eyes to avoid looking at the huge machine swooping down at them. “Jesus, Mary,” she muttered as Aero-Mexico Flight 180 from La Paz blasted overhead so close she could throw a hat up and hit it. The shock waves rocked their camper pickup, and then it was gone, the noise of the landing almost inaudible in comparison.

Her hand hurt, and she realized she was clutching the cross hanging from the chain around her neck. “Peter, please, how much longer are we going to wait?”

“Maria, relax. We were early. I didn’t want to take a chance on not being able to find this place, remember? So he’s late...look, there’re some headlights. That’s probably him.”

Sure enough, the headlights turning into the stadium stopped. They flashed on and off twice, and Peter flashed his headlights on and off three times in response, like they’d agreed.

The headlights approached to within a hundred feet, parking at an angle in front and a little to the left of their car, blinding them. Annoyed, Peter thought about turning on his headlights again to see how they liked it.

“Boy this guy is really paranoid.” Peter felt that way, too, but didn’t want to show it. As Maria whispered, “Peter, be careful,” he opened his door and got out, shielding his eyes from the glare. He walked toward the other car.

“Stop where you are Mr. Twillingham,” a voice commanded. Two men stepped into view, one on each side of the glaring lights. Peter’s stomach twisted. They held guns. Automatic weapons, like he’d seen in movies and on the six o’clock news.

“Where is the map, Mr. Twillingham?” The voice was more threatening now and didn’t belong to either of the two men holding the guns. It came from behind them.

“But-but,” Peter stammered, “y-you were just supposed to translate something for—”

“Shut up, stupid. The Mask is priceless. I want the map and I want it now.”

“But...but...my family is here. I—”

“That’s your fault I’m afraid. Tell your wife to get out of the pickup and join you.”

“No, please, no. She doesn’t—”

Fire flashed from the gun on the left.

Peter screamed, as one bullet hit his right leg, exploding the kneecap, and he fell, writhing on the ground. “You shot me.”

“Peter! Oh Peter,” Maria sobbed, opening her door and rushing to his side.

Shock overcame Peter, and, along with fear, it allowed him to be brave, forgetting the pain. “Please, please don’t hurt us,” he begged as he rolled in the dirt, holding his smashed leg. “I’ll give you the map—”

“Where is it?” the voice growled.

“Please wait...it...it’s sewn into our son’s shirt...we didn’t think anybody would...please...Maria can get it for you...just...just let us go...please...”

Maria cried and tried to staunch the blood with her blouse. “Oh Peter. Peter. Jesus. Mary.

Time slowed for Peter...thinking...Maria is ruining her blouse...I’m so stupid...is Pedro still asleep...his leg would heal and they wouldn’t kill them if they got—

Both weapons erupted fire as Maria threw herself across him, bullets spraying as they lay there jerking and dying, the dry earth sucking in their blood. Maria collapsed onto the corpse of her husband, clutching her bloodied cross.

“Thank you, anyway, Mr. Twillingham,” the voice in the shadows said. “I think we can get the map ourselves now.” To his men, he said, “Tráigame el niño.”


Chapter One

JUST PAST ROSARITA Beach, the Ensenada-Tijuana Toll Road makes a right-angled curve, running along the United States/Mexico border for less than half a mile before dumping down into the swap market atmosphere of the tourist shops and taco stands overwhelming Mexico’s side of the Tijuana border crossing.

Traffic was starting to stack up as I backed off the throttle to make the turn. It had been a nice open-throttle trip up the Baja peninsula from La Paz on my Harley Hog. I’d lost all sense of any reality except for the wind in my hair, the music playing, and the rumble of the twelve hundred cc’s engine I straddled. It had been eight hundred and some miles of scenic wonder, semi-trucks, jackrabbits, potholes, crossing cattle, donkeys, endless species of cactus, arroyos, spiraling vultures, weird Boojum trees that existed only in Baja, and nights with a sleeping bag under stars so close and bright you could hang your hat on them.

But no place will bring you back into the real world faster than Tijuana and the border. Soon I’d have to break out the helmet I hadn’t worn since crossing the border going the other way. Along this Mexican highway there are no radar cops. Just drop-off shoulders, narrow lanes and tight curves, and signs reading, “This highway was built for economic purposes and not for high speed driving.” Going home to America del Norte meant more than reliable utilities. There were lots and lots of rules for your own good. Many more people received head injuries in automobile accidents than in motorcycle crashes, but they didn’t make you wear a helmet in your car. Yeah well, if it’s the government it doesn’t have to make sense.

I braked as the traffic jammed up, and creeping along at fifteen miles an hour I had time to glance at the solid steel fence making the border a wall.

It was a little after one o’clock in the afternoon, but already a crowd was gathering along and on top of the wall, piled up like tumbleweeds against a fence, waiting to roll. They were making their run for the gold into the fabled land of plenty, and no army of Border Agents could hold them back for long. Only death would stop them, and as is often the case with the desperate, it sometimes did. If people will fight a war and die to defend an ideal, imagine what lengths they will go to in order to feed their own children.

I leaned the Hog into the far right lane and gunned it for fifty feet. Damn. My mellow mood had been ambushed. The border mess was upsetting, but it was a complicated problem I could do nothing about. I’m not a politician. My card reads: Rick Sage, Homicide Investigator, Private. I investigate violent death and sometimes catch murderers. Isn’t that enough? I wasn’t going to solve the world’s problems. Not today anyway. Today I had only to get through this bull-rush traffic and meet my friend Ian for one last afternoon in Mexico, betting the sports book at Caliente racetrack here in Tijuana. Dropping a few bucks into the pockets of the Mexican Mafia certainly wasn’t going to qualify me for the Nobel Peace Prize, but it would take my mind off my sore ass.

Yeah, and life goes on. I braked, wheeled around an overloaded taxi stopped in the middle of the road for who knows what the hell reason, made the turn on Revolución, and swerved through traffic down Tijuana’s bar-lined street of dreams—mostly nightmares.

I’d called Ian the first thing this morning. He’s a screenwriter from Santa Monica, but his first love is betting the horses. I’d missed the track since I’d been in La Paz, so I told him we could meet at Santa Anita for the last couple of races.

He had a better idea. He said he wanted to get down to Tijuana to absorb some color for a screenplay he was working on, so why not meet at Caliente? He said the horses weren’t running there right now, just the dogs, but they had satellite wagering from all the California tracks, and if we won big they didn’t hold back taxes.

It sounded good to me. I knew I’d be due for a rest by the time I reached Tijuana, and I’d wanted to see the track at Caliente. It was too bad they weren’t running here. There’d be off-track betting broadcast by satellite from tracks in the U.S. though, like Santa Anita in Pasadena or Belmont Park back East. What the heck, I’d have plenty of time for the real thing when I got up north. This would be a nice warm-up.

The traffic was lighter as Revolucion turned into Agua Caliente Boulevard, and I passed the bullring. There were tents set up in front of it, and flashing lights, so I figured the bullfights were in season.

I’ve never seen a bullfight, but friends tell me it’s an art form, not a sport. There’s a fight, and one of the participants ends up in a pool of blood. Sounds like real life to me.

Shit! I hit the brake as the Bimbo Bread truck in the lane on my right front swerved all the way over to the lane on my left, without signaling of course. Luckily I have fast reactions, because a Harley Hog doesn’t. The rear tire screeched—I gunned into the space the truck vacated—and I was clear.

I chuckled. What a way to die—to be run over by some Bimbo driver in Tijuana. Yeah well, it wasn’t a joke worth repeating much. The thing about Bimbo is it’s the Mexican version of Wonder Bread, with so many preservatives in it that it lasts for months. My friend Marilyn calls it ‘the bread that never gets worse.’ It’s true.

I found the entrance to the Caliente track and turned in. I grabbed a parking place in a corner where some idiot would have to try hard to hit the bike, and headed for the stairway entrance.

I was surprised to find a zoo-like cage with a jaguar at the foot of the stairs. It was black, a panther. I’d read somewhere that jaguars are usually yellowish, but like leopards and tigers a litter sometimes had a black one, like black sheep. Only, a black one in the big cat family is called a panther.

I stopped to look at the jaguar because I’d never seen one. It’s sad to see animals caged up—it always is—yet the Panther was beautiful, with its black fur and barely visible rosette-shaped spots. It would be something to see those greenish eyes peering down at you from some tree in the southern jungles of Mexico. No wonder the Mayans considered them gods, particularly the black ones. They certainly are god-like in their native habitat.

A primordial chill crawled down my spine as I took one last look, with the cat staring back at me—way back into me—and seemed to send a message.

I shrugged it off, turning for the stairs. As I reached them I felt something and glanced back. Sure enough, the black beauty was still following me with its eyes. Maybe it’ll bring me luck. I disregarded the other dark shadows the jaguar conjured up, as well as the old black cat superstition. After all, I’d crossed its path.

I took the stairs two at a time, paid the entrance fee, and found Ian at the huge oblong bar. He was jumping up and down on his bar stool like a beginner galloping a horse, and he was shouting at the overhanging television screen, “C’mon six! C’mon six! C’mon six! Hold on! Hold on! Aw shit! Damn!”

“Yeah well, Ian, you gave it the best ride you knew how.”

He turned, happy to have someone to commiserate with in English. “Didya see that? Didya see that? The damn jockey kept looking back—looking back—looking back, so the other horse said, sure I’ll pass you, why not, whinny breath?”

Then he was up and giving me a bear hug, hollering, “How the heck are you Rick? Hey, maybe you can bring me some luck. I just missed the early triple by a nose.”

It was more like a half a horse, but I didn’t tell him that. “Good to see you Ian, how’ve you been?”

“I’ve been great, up to a couple of minutes ago.” He ran a hand through his thick curly hair, tossing his losing tickets into the air over his right shoulder. I knew he’d had a bad day because he only did that when he really needed to change his luck. “Oh well,” he said, “on to the next race.”

“Which one was that?”

“It was the third. You want to go in on a Pick Six bet—fourth through the ninth races?”

“Sure, okay Ian. But you pick ‘em. I’ve been away for a while so I’m out of touch with the horses.”

“I haven’t done much so far, but I’ve got a feeling that’s about to change. You always bring me luck. Let’s check the form.”

Eternal optimism. It’s what Ian and I have most in common. Neither one of us could stand to be around negative people for long.

Not that we won a lot of money, but Ian won often. I seemed to use up a lot of my luck just staying alive in the murder business. And I didn’t have time to keep on top of the horses. I played when I could, some days taking home a few hundred dollars, and the other days, well, I tried not to lose more at a time than most people spend for a night on the town—the really big towns like Los Angeles.

We spent the next few minutes hashing out the horses we wanted on our Pick Six ticket. It’s not easy picking the winners of six races in a row. That’s why it could pay up to three or four hundred thousand dollars if a few long shots came in. Ian told me the early races had been to form though, so we should probably stick with the front-running favorites.

There are as many strategies as there are bettors and they’re all good before the horses come out of the gate. After crossing the finish line the strategies change and there are a lot of losers who, ‘had a feeling about that horse—shoulda bet it.’ So Ian’s strategy of the moment sounded as good as any other, except for a horse in the ninth race that jumped out at me from the form. “Ian,” I said, “what about Greeneyedbeauty?”

“Are you kidding? She hasn’t raced since last year and she wasn’t winning then. She’s dropping a bit, sure, and she will go off at maybe eight to one, but we’ve only got room left for two more horses or the ticket will cost way more than we want to play. Why do you like that one so much?”

“I’m not sure, call it a hunch. But it’s a strong hunch okay? She’s my pick.” I didn’t tell him the reason I liked her was the way that Jaguar looked at me...those green eyes. If I told him, Ian would give the look he gave people who bet on jockey colors. Of course he’d never admit he bet hunches, too. Bettors are superstitious and some days you’ll try anything to change your luck, but it’s bad luck to admit it. These things are complicated.

“Okay, okay,” he said after I gave him my real stubborn look. “We’ll leave off the five—take the six and your Greeneyedbeauty, the number eight horse.” He marked the card. “There, done. You want to make the bet?”

“No, you go ahead. I’m going to wander around and look at this place. Here’s my half.” I gave him sixty-four dollars and he rushed off to the window.

Five races later we were still in the Pick Six. Our first five picks had won, so we were assured at least a consolation prize, because they pay a percentage of the Pick Six pot to those with five winners. That was the good news. The bad news was, except for one race the winners were all favorites, meaning the payoff for five probably wouldn’t cover the cost of our bets.

If Greeneyedbeauty won though, we’d win thousands. If—-a real big little word in horse racing, or in life for that matter. With so many favorites coming in it didn’t look good for Greeneyedbeauty.

Yeah well. I tried to take my mind off the race by staring out the windows. It was a great view. Caliente is surrounded by hills rolling back from the other side of the track, giving it an expansive feeling. The infield has three sections, each filled with different types of exotic wildlife—like a zoo. To the left is a lake with all types of fowl, including ostriches. In the center section there are camels and zebras. The grassy section to the right has free-roaming lions.

“I didn’t expect this track to be so weird, Ian.”

“Yeah. Lions in the infield are interesting. The joke is that they’re real fat because they feed them losers.”

“It’s more likely they feed the winners to the lions—those with winning tickets. I’ve heard the Mafia have an interest in Caliente.”

“If they do have an interest you can bet it’s a controlling interest. You think we’ll have a hard time getting out of here if we win?”

“I don’t think so. They’d be better off trying to take a steak away from a hungry lion.”

Ian laughed. “Sorry. I forgot for a minute who my partner is.”

Over the loudspeaker came the announcement, “They’re at the post,” turning our attention to the race.

“You know, Rick, if your Greeneyedbeauty comes in we’re gonna do all right.”

“At this point I’ll be happy to break even.” I didn’t want to jinx us by saying it, but I couldn’t get over that jaguar’s eyes. That look communicated something to me and it didn’t feel hostile. Of course I was at the track, so if a yellow dog had crossed my path I might be over betting on greyhounds, thinking mystical thoughts. Maybe...but I didn’t think so. For one thing, I didn’t like dog races, but it was more than—

“They’re all in the gate,” the announcer said, “the flag is up...and they’re off...the number six horse stumbles badly coming out of the gate, and number eight, Greeneyedbeauty, takes the lead.”

“Oh no, she’s on the lead,” Ian was shouting, “she’ll never last—she’s gotta last—come on you Greeneyedbeauty you—go baby—”

Ian is a screamer. At the end of a race he’s more tired than the jockeys. I was excited too, in a surrealistic way quite different from the usual horse race; Ian’s voice and the race announcer’s seemed remote, as did the horses galloping in slow motion down the backstretch past the halfway mark of the mile and a sixteenth race, with Greeneyedbeauty running easily in the lead. It was a strange feeling I’d never had before, like I was floating in dark space and the stars were intense green jaguar eyes, with my heart galloping a primal rhythm of pounding hooves—until Ian pounded on my back, bringing me out of the trance...and the adrenalin kicking in and Greeneyedbeauty fighting for her life neck and neck down the stretch with the number five horse I’d made Ian cross off our ticket.

“Oh, not the five—not five—not five,” Ian yelled, and I was moaning an incantation, “C’mon eight, c’mon my Green-eyed-black-beauty, you can do it—that’s the way—that’s the way—that’s—”

“Yeehah!” Ian shouted in my ear, pounding both hands on my back, with Greeneyedbeauty pushing her nose in front at the wire.

“She did it—she did it—she did it, didn’t she Rick? I’m sure she had it by a nose. The eight won—the eight won—the eight—”

“No, it was the five—definitely the five,” piped up a gringo voice from across the bar.

Ian looked at me and I shrugged. “I dunno for sure. I thought it was the eight—”

“Jesus, not the five—that would be hard to take. All those bucks riding on a nose.”

I didn’t tell him what I was thinking—that I didn’t care about the money right now—that I had a strange feeling I couldn’t shake that my very life was riding on Greeneyedbeauty’s win and it could go either way, and even the jaguar was watching and waiting. It was crazy.

Then the announcer said, “It’s official! Number eight, Greeneyedbeauty, is entering the winner’s circle.”

Ian went wild, inventing a new dance that would never sweep the nation. Me, I was sweating a cold chill.

It took a while for the amount of the payoff to come in from Santa Anita, but finally it did. Our ticket was worth ten thousand, seven hundred and seventy-five dollars, and Ian started dancing again.

It was getting embarrassing, and I was glad when a guy who seemed to be in charge, called the jefe in Spanish, came out with the teller and they led us to a little room. Inside the room was another teller’s window opened to the counting room. The jefe said something in Spanish to the man behind that window, and the guy got a funny look on his face and said something back—like he didn’t understand. The jefe repeated his instructions, this time more emphatically. I didn’t understand what he was saying except for one word, the last one, and it put me on guard. After his instructions to the teller the second time, the jefe said, threateningly, “Capisce?”

Maybe I had seen too many Godfather movies. It seemed a strange word for a Mexican to use, but then the teller handed over a bundle of bills. The jefe turned to us, saying in perfect English, “I’m sorry but we don’t have enough money here to cover the bet. Here’s four thousand, seven hundred and seventy-five dollars. We’ll give you this voucher for the rest and you can come back tomorrow. Okay?”

Ian glanced at me. Oh great. Why did life have to be so predictable?

“No,” I said in my real serious voice, “it’s not okay. As soon as we get paid off we’re heading to the States. We aren’t leaving without our money, amigos. Speaking of amigos though, the Governor is one of mine. I have his private phone number and if you insist on not paying us off I’ll have to insist on calling him. Capisce?”

It was only a small bluff. I was the friend of a Mexican Governor, but he was the Governor of the State of Baja California Sur, which is the southern half of the Baja peninsula. The northern half of the peninsula is another State with, of course, an entirely different Governor.

The jefe seemed to think I might be bluffing, and I was sure he was measuring us for lion bait. I kept thinking jaguar, however, and jaguar won out once again. He looked away, shrugging.

“We don’t have the money,” he lied, “but my friend here, he has it and we can give him the voucher.”

He nodded to the teller who’d accompanied us from the other room, and the guy pulled a wad of one-hundred dollar bills out of his pocket and counted them out.

When he’d finished counting, I said, “What do you know...exactly five thousand dollars. That was lucky.”

They gave us very serious looks as we grabbed the two piles of cash and headed for the exit.

“Come back sometime,” the jefe said without smiling. “Capisce?”

I didn’t answer as we closed the door behind us.

“What do you think that was all about, Rick? That was strange.”

“It sure was. Maybe we messed up their money laundering today or something. Whatever, I think it’s best we head right for the border.”

We each took one of the bundles of cash, evening them up as we hurried down the stairs. I looked into the jaguar cage for a last message, but the cat only glanced at me like I was some kind of tourist, turning her back and padding away. I felt silly. My imagination had really run away with me this time. Maybe it was a good thing I was getting away from the magic of Mexico for a while.

“I’ll follow you across the border, Ian.”

“Great, Rick. It was a fun time. We’ll have to try it again—maybe next week at Santa Anita.”

“I’ll give you a call. Take it easy.”

“Yeah, you too. Hey, and buy yourself a new shirt, will ya?”

I laughed as I got on my bike. I wore custom-made bowling shirts a lot when I was working—with fake logos on the back and different first names over the pockets. They were loose fitting and cool, and I could hide my big Colt forty-five under them. Ian liked to kid me about it. The one I wore today was black with emerald green embroidery, which was way too coincidental, but at least it didn’t have a Jaguar on the back. The next one I ordered would.

I followed him all the way, right up to the booth at the border crossing. I was sure Ian was nervous, carrying all that cash. Not that it was illegal or anything. It’s the fear that the Customs Officer might think he is a drug dealer that would be unnerving. Being a screenwriter, Ian has a great imagination.

But the agent asked him a couple of questions and waved him on. I pulled up to the booth and the agent punched my license number into the computer. There was a second’s pause and the agent said, “Mr. Sage?”

“Yes,” I answered. What now?

“Please get off your motorcycle.”

“What’s going on?”

“Just get off your motorcycle, now.”

His hand moved to rest on the butt of his holstered handgun so I did as he said. Not that I even considered not cooperating. I just didn’t like doing it without an explanation.

“Listen,” I said, looking him in the eyes, “either tell me what this is all about or call up your reserves.”

I guess he’d already pushed some sort of signal on his computer, because two uniformed Mexicans came running. “The Mexican authorities wish to speak to you,” the border agent said. “Please accompany these two gentlemen.”

“What about my bike?”

“We’ll have it brought over. Go with them now, please.”

“If you even scratch the road dust on this motorcycle you guys are going to be singing ‘pretty please with sugar on it’ to an old beat.” I gave him a hard look, hoping he understood I wasn’t bluffing. I was upset, but there was no telling what those bastards back at the track had accused me of. Maybe the jaguar had turned on me, after all.

I said, “Adelante,” to my two Mexican escorts, going along peacefully, for now.