Alice and Bernie: By Death Bemused
A Brief Conversational Narrative by David L. Haase
Episode 4: In which a kidnapping takes place.
“Are you clear on the plan?”
“Well, yes, you’ve told me three times, but I don’t know why we can’t have breakfast first. And why do I have to approach the gardener? Why can’t you do it, and I’ll be the lookout?”
“For pity’s sakes, Bernie, is that all you think about? Food?”
“Well, it’s almost seven, and we usually have breakfast at 6:15 at St. Gertrude’s.”
“Well, we’re not at St. Gertrude’s, and we won’t be anywhere but in that mortuary down the street if you don’t follow the plan.”
“Alice, did you say there’s a mortuary down the street? You didn’t mention that in the plan.”
“It’s not in the plan. I didn’t want to worry you. Pretty convenient, don’t you think. And it’s Korean. The sign out front has two languages, and one of them has those flat circles and stick figures all over it.”
“Oh, Alice. You may be right about all this.”
“Of course, I’m right about this. Now you go get Pablo there. We have to get going before they miss us.”
Bernie toddled off toward a shadowy figure at the edge of the parking lot and well beyond her normal line of vision. The outline grew sharper as she neared him, but never completely came into focus.
“Excuse me, young man.”
Bernie’s voice startled the Salvadoran, and he bolted upright and faced the voice. She was so close to him he stepped back into the bush he had been mulching and tumbled over backwards.
The old woman stepped around the bush and reached down to help the man up.
“Are you all right, young man?”
“Si. Si. Yes,” he said.
“Oh, good. Come along then. My friend Alice wants to have a word with you.”
“Que?” he said.
Bernie spoke no Spanish and knew it was pointless to converse with the man. If Alice was going to be the brains, she could do the talking.
She took the man by the arm. He looked back at his mulch as the crazy old woman dragged him away.
“Bernie, what are you doing?” Alice looked furtively about. “We’re supposed to meet at the bus.”
“He doesn’t speak English. You need to talk to him,” Bernie said.
“Oh, for gosh sakes, Bernie. … Say, you. You speak English?”
Manuel Estaban Barca smiled, as his friends had counseled him to do when confronted with an Anglo who does not speak Spanish.
“English? English,” Alice said, her voice rising above its normal shout. “Do you speak English?” She enunciated slowly.
“Alice, he’s not deaf. The whole motel will hear you.”
“Bernie, back off. That’s how you talk to these people. You have to talk slow and loud and let it sink in.”
“I don’t think he speaks English.”
“You’re probably right.”
“You drive?” Alice faced Manuel and made turning motions with an invisible steering wheel.
“Si. Si. Yes,” he said, nodding.
“Good. Come along.” Alice grabbed Manuel and Bernie by their elbows and steered them toward the yellow school bus parked at the door to the motel.
“All right, Bernie. You first. And you, mister, you help her up. She doesn’t see well.”
Bernie held out her arm to the perplexed Salvadoran.
“Up, up.” Alice said. “Help her up. … You’re as big a ninny as she is. We’ll be lucky if all three of us don’t end up in a hole six feet under by supper time.”
“I heard that, Alice.”
“Bernie, keep moving. … You, up, up. Come on before someone notices.”
Alice tried lifting her leg onto the first step of the bus. It was too high.
“Hey, senor, help me up.”
“Can I help you, ma’am?” It was one of the fresh-faced volunteers coming out the hotel door. “It’s very early to be boarding the bus. We won’t leave for at least half an hour.”
“Oh, that’s all right. We want to get good seats.” Alice lied.
“Well, if you insist, but the bus ride only takes about 10 minutes.”
“That’s all right. We want to get window seats. We don’t get out much.”
“Who’s that in there with you?”
“That’s just my friend. Now you go back in there and get a good breakfast. I imagine you have a busy day planned.”
“Oh, yeah. It’s going to be great. The kids are so excited. … Can I help you up?”
“No, I can make it myself. You run along.”
“All right. See you later.”
The teen-ager wandered back into the motel, wondering what his mother had gotten him into.
“Dumb bunny,” Alice said under her breath, which meant the teen heard her and looked back at the old lady hitching her knee up and down like she was trying to start a motor cycle.
She finally hauled herself into the bus with a helping hand from Manuel, who led her to the seat immediately behind the driver. He bowed to the ladies and started for the bus door, happy to have helped two old people.
“Hold on. Where do you think you’re going?” Alice said.
She pointed at the driver’s seat. “You drive.”
Manuel Estaban Barca shook his head – “No. No. No.” – and poured out a stream of Spanish, pointing to the bushes he had been mulching.
“You can do that later,” Alice said, pointing fiercely toward the driver’s seat. She reached past him and pulled the lever that closed the school bus door, trapping Manuel inside. “Drive.”
He sat, staring fearfully at Alice. This was how you lose a job, he thought.
“Buckle up,” she said, pointing to the seat belt.
He fastened the seat belt and looked to Alice.
“Drive. San Lorenzo. You know San Lorenzo?”
He pointed to the ignition lock and launched into an explanation Alice could not understand.
She reached into her purse and pulled out a key attached to a yellow tag shaped like a bus.
“Here. Now drive.”
“Alice, where did you get that key?” Bernie asked.
“Front desk. I told one of those kids the director wanted me to get it for him. Kids these days will believe anything.”
“Alice, that was wrong.”
“Wrong? Wrong is getting sent to a euthanasia camp by your own children. That’s wrong. … Come on, you, drive.”
She made steering motions again. Manuel tried to object, but Alice put a firm hand on his shoulder. “Drive.”
Manuel started the engine and the bus jerked forward. Alice was prepared for the rough start. She held tight to the hand rail between Manuel and her. Even experts seemed to have trouble getting these yellow giants moving smoothly, and Manuel had the look of a person who did more mulching than driving.
“San Lorenzo. We go to San Lorenzo,” she said, slowly and loudly.
“San Lorenzo, si. Si. Yes. San Lorenzo.” Manuel jabbered on as he pulled out of the parking lot and onto the street, heading toward the interstate. Behind him, young people poured out of the old motel, yelling and waving their hands.
He shifted into a higher gear, wondering why two old ladies were forcing him to take them to southern Mexico. It would take two or three days to reach, and he had no idea how they would get across the border. Maybe the Mexican authorities would seize him and free him from the old ladies.
“Alice, should we call Gracie now?”
“No. We’ll wait till we get closer to San Lorenzo. I don’t want her to alert her Dad.”
“You said she would help us.”
“She will, but she might be conflicted. If we just show up, she won’t have time to think about it.”
“Do you know the way to her house?”
“No, but I figure we can stop somewhere and have her come meet us. Then we can send Pablo here back, and we make our escape. When we’re safe, we can call the cops. They can rescue the others.”
“Alice, can we stop somewhere and get breakfast?”
“Bernie, all you think about is food. Here, I brought you some crackers. You can nibble on those until we get to Gracie’s house. San Lorenzo is just north of here, only two or three hours away.”
Next Up: Episode 5 – In which the police step in.
I think Bernie and Alice live just around the block from me….