Tragedy in Dubai, Poppy’s Return to Mexico
Puerto Vallarta International Airport
Puerto Vallarta had not experienced a violent, tropical storm like this one since 2002 when the ocean surged into hotel lobbies on the Malecon.
The Gulfstream 550G made a third failed attempt to land, as a fierce crosswind hammered the aircraft. Nose up, its silver skin sequined in dancing rain, it climbed out of the turbulence and banked around the sheer face of the Sierra Madre Mountains. The lone passenger sat in the opulent cabin staring out into the black abyss, seeing not dangerous weather, but the sudden, dark turn of her life.
Just as the tower prepared to abort the landing a break in weather brought the plane down safely, taxing away from the terminal to the far corner of the tarmac where the black Hummer waited. From her window Poppy recognized the tall, thin man, silhouetted in the wet glare of the high beams. He stood erect under a black umbrella that threatened to collapse in the gusting wind. Parked to his left, in the shadow of a windowless hangar, was a silver SUV.
The aircraft door swung open to the sultry perfume of the tropics startling Poppy’s sleeping memories, the ones left behind a decade earlier when a life of splendor whispered her name. But this wasn’t the hour for looking back. She must pay close attention to what waited in the driving rain. Rising to leave, she felt the stabbing effects of the tragedy which had brought her here from the other side of the world.
The flight crew awkwardly assembled for their passenger's departure. In a few minutes they would refuel and depart. Scattered thoughts played in the recesses of Poppy’s mind as she walked to the front of the cabin; the countless trips shared, circling the globe, sampling food, drink and exotic cultures. More than employees the crew had become friends. Their lives, like hers, had been consumed by one man’s power, money, and daring adventures.
A haggard Captain Dougherty stood next to Evan, his co-pilot. At the open door was Michelle, the flight attendant. “I just want to say that John was, well... that,” The captain’s stammer trailed off into a whisper. “If there’s anything I can do…”
Poppy noticed shock and disbelief etched on their faces. “It’s out of our hands now, Frank.” She struggled to express so much more but the words were locked away. “Thank you,” she added, and then simply walked down the stairs and out of their lives.
The man, patiently waiting on the wet tarmac, held the umbrella as Poppy descended. She placed her hand in his and felt the reassuring grip of her Godfather, Demetrio Mendoza.
“Bienvenida a casa a la Princesa,” he said as if their separation had been 10 days, and not 10 years. He offered his arm tilting the umbrella to her favor and motioned toward the mystery vehicle where two men stood watching.
“My apology, but you must relinquish your passports now.” He saw the dark circles that dimmed the youthful face he remembered.
“Nobody said anything about that. Why?”
Demetrio nodded toward the strangers. “The United States and Dubai have requested it until they prepare an investigation. It’s…” He shook his head at the foibles of mankind. “Fear insights over reaction,” he added, thinking it unnecessary to reveal the confiscation of her passports had been more than a request.
Poppy reached into her leather brief and extracted the documents. He handed off the umbrella. “Remain here. I will take care of this." He gently caressed her cheek. "And then I will take you home.”
He walked to the Mexican Immigration Officers and surrendered the evidence of her privileged life. Both men looked beyond him, to Poppy, while examining the photos and official stamps. With solemn authority, one of them announced that Poppy Duprey, being a Mexican citizen, should anticipate an indefinite delay in the return of her documents.
The shorter of the two, a mestizo, reeking of cologne, with a large, government emblem on his baseball hat, added with a hint of arrogance, “We will tell Señorita Duprey ourselves so there is no misunderstanding.”
Demetrio sensed their male curiosity about the tall, young woman; the kind of woman, men like these only dream about. They knew that she was the famous image of Night of the Iguana Tequila, a taste so exquisite and expensive that it would never touch their lips. They could make out the silhouette of the ‘Goddess of the Nectar’, the famous, long legs that appeared in glossy ads along with yachts and villas. Tonight, these uniforms were in the presence of the emerald green eyes, a few feet away on the slick tarmac. Rich, famous, and powerful men sipped Night of the Iguana Tequila and had their way with a woman like that, while these Latinos, standing in the wet wind, had to settle for being the minor authority dispatched to confiscate Señorita Duprey’s important papers. Men chosen to declare, in a menacing tone, that she was no longer on top of the world and the mistress of a billionaire gringo. Now, she was just a puta mestizo after all.
It had been cleared with a higher command that Señorita Duprey should not be exposed to any inconvenience, but Demetrio figured these guys could push their miniscule power beyond its limits. Hombres like these, with government insignias and automatic weapons, bathed in cheap cologne, accrued cantina collateral, free beer from their mano y mano amigos, in exchange for their bloated stories; testosterone-laced tales about how they forced the famous Tequila Goddess to suck their dicks on the tarmac because she showed them disrespect, and they had to show who was boss now, remind her that she was not in Paris or New York City, but back home in Mexico where bitches know their place. Yes, Demetrio knew their game and responded with a courteous smile, masking his disdain.
“I assure you, there will be no misunderstanding if you will allow me.” And then Demetrio added, “Señor Rodriquez is a respected friend. I would do nothing to embarrass him.” Rodriquez was their boss and the mention of his name was all it took.
The shorter of the two men shifted his weight one foot to the other while his compadre closed his eyes with the orgasmic pleasure of decision-making. Together they peered once more over Demetrio’s shoulder at the female. “No hay problema. Just so there is no misunderstanding.”
Demetrio thanked them, returned to the Hummer and buckled Poppy safely into the passenger's seat. Driving away he checked the rear view mirror to see the men still watching. Except for the meditative slap of the windshield wipers, he allowed silence to cushion their ride. Unfortunately, the tragedy responsible for Poppy's return was only a part of what was unfolding. Demetrio, with a heavy heart, glanced over at his passenger who barely resembled the young girl he remembered.
Loretta Duprey, tented in the sweet smoke of a cohiba cigar, waited for her daughter on the covered veranda of Hacienda Iguana. “Que hora es?"
The Mexican woman, sitting on the far end of the massive table, looked beyond the hurricane candles, through the doorway to the ancient clock. “Two thirty five,” came her answer in Spanish.
“I’ll have another.” Loretta slid the slender glass caballito,' etched with the Night of the Iguana logo, to Angelina, her longtime friend and housekeeper, who lifted the exquisite bottle and poured for them both.
“You think Demetrio ran into trouble?” Loretta squinted into the black hole where rain fell. “My baby girl doesn’t need any more of that.” She knocked back the tequila and tucked a strand of waist long hair behind the silver iguanas dangling from her pierced ears. The women sat listening to the swollen river swirl toward the open sea while the flames flickered in the open fireplace and the silver lizards shimmied with Loretta’s impatience. “I sure as hell hope he didn’t run into trouble,” she repeated.
“Demetrio is friends with trouble,” Angelina said as she picked up her tequila with a well-worn hand. “He knows. Don’t worry.”
After all the years Loretta had lived in Mismaloya, Mexico she still marveled at the simple remedy Mexicans had for their problems. ‘He knows' meant, ‘leave it to God.' Until recently, Loretta hadn’t personally given God much thought, although now she realized what a brilliant antidote ‘He’ was for a hard, Mexican life.
Suddenly the familiar sound of the Hummer caught their attention as it pitched and rocked on a ribbon of mud through the sentinel of palm trees. Angelina stood and peered into the dark morning. “Alli, she comes!”
Loretta rose up, tequila in one hand and the thin cigar in the other. “If I cry kick me in the ass, Angelina.”
Angelina's eyes glistened in tears. “This is a happy time. God’s will...”
“Oh, Christ Almighty!” Loretta interrupted. “Don’t give me any more of that. Just kick me in the ass.” With that she stepped down on bare feet, feeling the sting of rain and tears, and then the thought of him swept over her. John Madison, the man responsible for Poppy leaving, and now for her sudden return, was blown to smithereens. Without warning, a man like no other, had stepped across the threshold of her life changing everything. Now he was gone and the hour was late, maybe too late.
The Iguana Compound gates yawned wide to her daughter's return, and for the first time in her unapologetic life Loretta stood on the precipice of raw fear.