What a wedding! The venue was gorgeous, the bride and groom stunning, the ceremony complete with personal vows exchanged, sand ceremony conducted, friends and family misty eyed as they were announced as Mr. and Mrs. Howlett! We ate, we drank, we launched wish-lanterns, set off fireworks, and danced into the night. Wedding … check! It was time to go home and face the music. Da da duh da, da da duh duh daaaaahhhh (Dragnet theme)!
It was a quiet flight home. And where was home, anyway? When I boarded the plane to North Carolina three weeks prior, we were living on the beach in Costa Rica in a house with a gorgeous swimming pool in the front yard, just steps from the breaking waves of the Pacific Ocean. If it were in Malibu, it would cost ten million dollars! I had dear friends coming in from California in two days. I had planned on stocking the house with tropical fruits, flowers, a bucket of bubbly, and, of course a welcome cake for their arrival.
The break-in occurred while I was in the throes of wedding planning. Don said he would move a few things into the Atenas casita so I wouldn’t have to walk into the trashed beach house straight away. He said I would never have to go there again; he would move everything out. As wonderful an offer as that was, it was impossible. Being the home-maker that I am, I knew exactly which kitchen utensils, spices, dishes, etc. were ours and which were theirs. I had taken pictures of the insides of cupboards so I could put everything back exactly as it was when the sisters left the house in our care. I steeled myself for the encounter.
Don and I decided it was more important to welcome our California friends, Jan and Reid, with peace and serenity in Atenas than plunge into the unknown at the beach house. What’s another couple of days under the circumstances? The house-sitter, Chaco, came highly recommended by the sisters. They only trusted two people to care-take (guard) the house in our absence. We had employed Martin, the other choice, as Chaco was guarding a nearby watermelon field until the end of May, when Don got a two week assignment in St. Thomas just days after we moved in. As part of the deal when he took this job, if the trip was a week or longer, I got to go! Well, not only was this two weeks, it was St. Thomas, USVI! I wasn’t going to miss this; the company paid for the room at Bolongo Bay Resort whether I was there or not. So, off we went.
At the conclusion of the job two and a half weeks later, Don was diverted to Guatemala. I returned to Costa Rica alone with a happy heart. We had a blast in the Virgin Islands and now I was coming home to prepare for a dinner party that same evening. I expected to find the house as I had left it. Before our departure, we moved all the outdoor furniture inside. I could get the house-sitter, Carlos, the handsome, muscular, twenty-something with the perfectly gelled spiked hair-do, to help me drag the Guanacaste table back to the patio. It’s heavy. Well, it should be, it’s made from the trunk of an enormous tree. Even so, leaving it outside in our absence is simply an invitation to the thieves to load it up in the back of a pick-up and haul it away for their enjoyment. Chairs, too.
I pulled into the drive-way, car loaded with groceries and supplies for the dinner party, and was surprised by a flurry of activity on the terrace. There was an older lady sweeping the deck, a few children in the pool, a couple more chasing the two house dogs, Shorty Johnson and Rudy, and Carlos rushing to greet me and help carry the groceries into the house. We exchanged pleasantries as we went into the house. My eyes swept the place and I was taken aback to see the furniture had been rearranged. At least it was clean; turns out the older lady was Carlos’s mother and I was expected to pay her for cleaning the house! He also told me there was something wrong with the propane; the stove wouldn’t light.
I paid him the house-sitting fee and the cleaning fee and said adios. Relieved to see the troops vacate, I set about putting the house back in order. Every bed had been slept in and probably the couch, too. Umberto, the gardener and trusted source of information showed up and told me the whole family stayed there to help Carlos house-sit; he was afraid to be there alone, especially at night. The propane tank was empty because they cooked there the entire time we were gone. Carlos couldn’t find the key to the padlock to the cage that housed the tank, protecting it from robbers, so he couldn’t fill it. The stove was broken because the tank was empty. It had rained and the pad-lock was rusted shut. Fortunately, Umberto had bolt cutters. We cut the lock, pulled the empty tank out (it was full before we left) and luckily for me, he volunteered to take it for a re-fill, a service not included in his gardening duties.
Roberto and I were staring at the flat tire on my little car, strategizing about how I could sit on the back of his motorcycle while balancing the tank on my lap and take it for a fill when my parents pulled up in their SUV. Yay! Problem solved. Papa Nuevo (Don, my mother’s husband, and my “new dad” of twenty years) would drive with Umberto to the pulperia (small grocery store) for the gas. Mom and I would pop a bottle of champagne to celebrate the news of Tyler and Colette’s engagement and Chelsea and Ben’s upcoming wedding.
I would be departing for North Carolina in just a couple of weeks. I could use the time to make the house as cozy as possible in preparation for Jan and Reid’s arrival. They owned two lots in a gated community above the beach at Esterillos; the reason we moved there in the first place. The plan was to build two houses simultaneously utilizing Don’s expertise as a contractor, mine as an over-seer living close by so I could check on the workers. Jan and I were envisioning pot-luck block parties, long beach walks, and daily yoga classes at the beach cabana the developer promised when they purchased the lots. Reid kept talking about the “Gringo Bar” where the surfers gathered and how much fun it would be for the “boys” to drag their boards out, ride a few waves, then stop in for a couple of beers afterward.
Don and I moved to the beach at the peak of high season when the sun was shining, the birds were singing, tourists were flying kites on the sand, and children were frolicking in the gentle waves. We were warned that come April, so do the rains, the people leave, and the sea gets angry. It’s as though somebody flips a switch like the game programmers in The Hunger Games. The storms rage with thunder and lightning, the torrents crash against the tin roofs drowning out the sounds of the two-footed rats that surface through the dregs in the night.
Not to worry; we had Chaco who had a gun and a big dog. Or maybe he said big gun and a dog. My book-learned Spanish didn’t always get everything perfectly. The break-in happened before his watch. Remember, Don was stuck with car trouble when it happened.
Jan, Reid and I made plans to investigate the scene the next day while Don was at work in San Jose; first visit their lots on the hill, then to the scene of the crime.
Part 5: (soon)