Sweet Treat

Word List

Donde esta = where is”Don’t put it off any longer,” Guy said.

After supper that evening Guy and I had strolled over to where the buses were parked, and sat down and watched the western sunset.

“Put off what?

“Get out your notebook. Remember how we solved all that vandalism at Country Hamlet? You started writing clues in your sketchbook.”

I reached for my notebook, scowling. “Mysteries always seem so fun on TV. But in real life they can be sickening.” He nodded glumly.

“We’ve got two questions to answer. First,” I said, “if Lilia couldn’t have stolen the camera, then who did?” He nodded again.

“And second, when do we tell what we know?”

“Yeah, but what do we really know?”

“How the theft was done. Lilia herself couldn’t have weasled a wire through the window, but somebody else could have.”

I took out my gray Flexgrip pen, opened my notebook to a blank page, and wrote Suspects at the top. “Bundo obviously is the number one suspect.”

“Maybe,” he said thoughtfully.

“What do you mean, maybe?

“He should be on the list, but maybe not as number one. I don’t like to suggest this, but remember who told us about the wire? And demonstrated it?”

I gaped at him. “Guy, you’re crazy! Victoria would never do a thing like that!”

“How do you know?”

I glared westward into the astonishing sunset, which glowed high and wide in the sky. In spite of my confusion I remember thinking that I had never seen so many variations on the orange and the purple.

“Write her name down, Mark. Be fair.”

Clenching my teeth, I printed Victoria below Bundo. “And if it comes to that, we’ll have to put Mr. Denton down. And those workers.”

“What workers?”

“Those angry El Salvadoran workers who got so bent out of shape because we wouldn’t quit work at noon.”

Guy’s eyes widened. “I never thought of them.”

“Maybe they should be at the top of the list. And it’s possible that other orphans know the wire trick–like maybe even Nestor. Maybe the workers made one of the orphans steal the camera just to get back at us.”

“Or maybe they hired Bundo,” he said. “I keep forgetting he’s got friends in a gang.”

Sunsets happen quickly in El Salvador, and by now a dark purple was rapidly overspreading the orange. The stars were coming out. Orion was in a different position than I was used to.

“We’d better bite the bullet,” I said.”And tell?”

“And tell. But first I think we should bring Victoria in on this.”

“Not if she’s a suspect.”

“Look, Guy. Why would she tell us about the wire, and then go use it herself to steal a camera? Bundo’s a far likelier suspect than she is. I say we break the news to her, and watch her carefully to see if she acts guilty. We need an ally.”

It took me awhile to wear him down, but finally Guy agreed. “But if you tip her off and she’s guilty,” he growled, “we’ll never see that camera again.”

“Well, it’s probably gone for good anyhow,” I said philosophically. “Whoever’s got it would probably want to get cash for it quickly. One way or another, we can’t lose. And also,” I said, “I want you to help me make a detailed list of everything that happened right around the time the camera disappeared.”

“Mark,” Guy said thoughtfully, “who would have thought we’d end up trying to solve a crime on a mission trip to come help people? Somehow this doesn’t seem right.”

“Well, no place in this world is perfect. And just because there’s sin someplace doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep helping others just the same. Jesus did.”

He smiled. “You’re right. Now let’s get to work on our lists.” We bent over our pages in the deepening twilight.

* * *

“Sorry your camera’s gone, Dad,” I said when we were back in the room. We were alone. Guy had stayed back to talk to Bundo and Victoria, who came by.

“I’m sorry too.” Dad sighed. “For one thing, you won’t be able do a full-fledged slide show back at your school. All I’d taken was just one roll, mostly our flight down and the bus trip from the airport. Maybe I could get some pictures from Chuck, but his are prints, not slides.”

I actually saw a tear glisten in one eye and crawled over on his bed to sit beside him. “Sorry, Dad.”

He reached over and hugged me. His chest heaved slightly, and he said in a quiet voice, “I can’t believe I’m crying over a camera, Mark. Why?”

Then I lost it too.”I want to go home,” I sobbed. “I miss Mom.”

“You and me both!” he said. “But I’m not going home without that camera.” He gave me another squeeze. “OK, now, help me think. Chuck Kinney and I were wondering if we should get the local police to investigate.”

“Bundo’s father is a police officer.””Who’s Bundo?”

“You remember–that kid I told you about who calmed down the Salvadoran workers last week. He goes to the academy here.”

Dad looked at his watch and reached for his shoes. “It’s not very late yet. I know where the academy principal lives. His wife speaks English. Maybe I can persuade him to get–what did you say his name was?–Bundo’s father to come here in an unofficial capacity. I don’t want to make trouble for the school.”

* * *

“Sugar cane,” said Guy, the next morning after breakfast.”What?”

“I just remembered. We haven’t had any sugar cane yet. You said they grew sugar cane in El Salvador.”

I nodded. “But how are we going to find some?”

“Victoria might know. Anyway, you said we’ve got to break the news about the camera to her.”

When we knocked at the girls’ dorm wing where the orphans stayed, a smiling teacher came to the door.

“Donde esta Victoria?” I asked, having practiced that phrase privately ahead of time.

“Un momento, por favor.” She disappeared. And soon Victoria was with us, wearing jeans, a blue short-sleeved shirt, and a serious expression. When we mentioned sugar cane, she brightened and nodded.

“We will walk to the sugar cane,” she said. “It is very close. I will get a knife.”

While she was gone, I whispered to Guy, “Let’s not mention the camera until we get to the sugar cane field. I want to watch her face.”

It was a magnificent day, like all the days had been since we arrived. Even though it wasn’t even 10:00 yet, the sun was warming the campus, and we’d probably be in the high 90s again.

We strolled past a giant mango tree behind the girls’ dorm, and then crossed a narrow gravel road into a field filled with what looked like cornstalks, only larger and thicker. They were blackened and sparse-looking.

“Looks like a fire has been through here,” Guy said.

Victoria nodded. “They burn the field before they take away the sugar cane. It makes it easier.” She gripped one of the stalks in her left hand, and sawed at it with the long knife she’d brought with her. When the cane came free, she cut it into three short pieces, each of which she sharpened like a gigantic pencil.

“Here,” she said with a smile. “Candy.”

I bit into the pulpy sharpened point. It was like biting on really stringy celery, and it was sweet, but not as sweet as I thought it was going to be. I chewed and chewed.

“Like this,” said Victoria, and I saw that she was sucking on it like you sometimes do a popsicle. I tried it that way and found it easier to get the sweetness.

I glanced at Guy and caught his eye. He nodded, and we both fixed our eyes on Victoria’s face.

“May we ask you a few questions?” I said to her.

She looked at me, and then at Guy. Our steady gazes must have startled her, because she stepped back a pace. “What?”

“Mark’s father’s camera was stolen,” said Guy. “Do you know anything about it?”

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Sweet Treat

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