Dan A. Cardoza has an MS Degree in Psychology and Counseling. His poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared in over 300 publications.
Everything at the crime scene screamed staged, the weapons, the two targets, the careful isolation. But, after Max, the area’s leading crime scene analyst, entered the hotel suite, the stage had been set.
Unlike most tropical paradises, foreigners are encouraged to purchase property here in Costa Rica. Real estate deeds are a dime a dozen if you are an individual owner or a business seeking property. Corporations love the ease of obtained deeds in Costa Rica. Just try this in any country in Central America? Hotels chains swarm here like bulls to heather. Over time, casinos have learned mating calls.
What you can’t buy here, in our fantasy paradise, is sunny weather. That is by chance if you've been buried six feet under.
That’s assuming Max Ryan is deceased.
Maximilian C. Ryan, his legal name, lived a joyful life down here. He cherished the modern home he’d built in Uvita. If my memory serves me right, he had it designed and constructed in the late 80s, shortly before he retired. He seemed well off when we met, but he wasn’t one to flash his money around.
He’d introduce himself to anyone he’d met as a retired civil servant. Yet he never mentioned his occupation. In truth, handsome Max looked much too young to be retired.
The lovely village of Uvita is south of San Jose, the country's capital and its largest city.
Since Max went missing around ten years ago, his home has been kept in immaculate condition. The gorgeous structure is located on the leeward side of town, next to a commercial banana plantation. It’s here in the adjacent forest where we occasionally see the white-faced monkey.
The plantation and small forest is near what the locals call Cuento de Ballenas.
Cuento de Ballenas is a partially submerged peninsula on the pacific coast. It’s in the shape of a blue whale’s tailfin that is partially submerged. It’s an unmistakable regional landmark.
Let me introduce myself. Let’s just say my name is Jack Tatum. I’ve lived down here for as long as I care to remember. I moved down here from Houston, Texas. I’d made lots of money off oil. I intend to spend all of it down here.
The government, assuming Max’s demise, seized his property under the eminent domain act. The action had been approved by the courts. This all happened quickly in the late ‘90s.
Marci, Max's daughter, had difficulty getting her father declared dead. She needed to move his will forward. Since her dad’s body had never been discovered, it had taken some time to get all the paper work in order. Eventually, her attorneys prevailed.
Max had willed his lovely daughter his entire estate, including two massive life insurance policies. There was one exception, and that is what used to be his property in Costa Rica.
I understand that a group of investors from New Jersey had purchased the valuable mini estate from the government. I think it was in 1991. It was as if the longshoremen’s union knew what had been buried under the earth, perhaps oil, gold, or diamonds? Just maybe their intent was to rearrange a crime scene.
Nothing is certain. But it was Charlie Chaplin who’d once said, “I suppose one of life’s biggest ironies is when someone does the wrong thing at the right time.” In Max’s case, I’d love to think he did the right thing at the right time.
Max C. Ryan was born in the City of Toledo, Ohio. Toledo is called the city of glass, although the backwash of the city couldn’t be less transparent.
Max had mentioned that he’d moved to Costa Rica after he’d received a large inheritance sometime in the late '80s. He told a few others at the local bars he haunted. With each new acquaintance, he’d explain how he’d worked as a civil servant and how he made his money in the stock market. Everyone knew this to be a bleached out lie.
A lot of Expats in Uvita have relocated from the states. Some have purchased property here to remove themselves from their shady pasts. Max was no exception.
* * *
Donna Summer’s hit song, “Last Dance,“ had been stuck in a cassette loop in the hotel suite. Two men were present, and both weren't talking. There were two dead men.
Earlier in the evening, all the muscle had been excused to the hotel lobby’s bar, where they'd been celebrating. It was an open bar.
The get-acquainted meeting at the Park Lane Hotel room in Toledo had ended badly. The Old West End of town had a reputation for graft and corruption. It would live up to its reputation this icy December early morning.
There had been a coming out party of sorts, a celebration. Two families would be merging, Toledo and New Jersey.
Fine caviar, brains, and blood had been served on the walls, floors, and ceiling of the hotel room.
The year was 1978. Someone had made an emphatic statement. There’s murder, and then there’s overkill. There was no pick your poison here.
One of the dead was quickly identified as a local mob boss. His driver's license listed his name: Johnny R. Bollard. The local boys referred to him lovingly as Bollard Head.
A bollard is a short, thick metal post on a wharf dock used to secure ropes. Johnny had deep connections with most of the ship arrival and departures at the Port of Toledo. He had the heft of the dockworker's union, and teamsters tucked away inside his ass pocket.
The second victim proved equally important and curious. The police department knew him as a made-man. But he wasn’t local. He’d worked for the New Jersey crime family for the longest time. His driver’s license read: Anthony C. Anastasia, affectionately known as Tony the Hammer.
Max would document that both men had been killed in a similar manner. One with a shotgun blasts to the face. The other had a 40 caliber bullet hone drilled through his forehead.
Max had been asked to make sure that the wounds, stippling, and method of delivery tied together neatly in a pretty bow in the final report.
The most prominent theory that bubbled up at the time was that Anthony Anastasia had come to town to broker some sort of profit-sharing agreement with the locals. After all, what is illegal is often sold in New Jersey. Max had been an anonymous source.
It would be reported the following day that both men had died from separate gunshot wounds, and that each of the deceased Houdinis had taken a simultaneous head shot at the other. A shotgun had been discovered at the crime scene and of course, the planted 40 caliber pistol. The only fingerprints on the guns would be identified as coming from the two dead men.
Max photographed each important item. Everything was given a number. He had items shipped to the lab.
The grisly truth is that what had been labeled the after-party murders had more to do with saving money than making money.
The mayor of Toledo was of course, well aware of this. In fact, the entire crime scene had played out as a storyboard in his head for some time.
You see, the City of Toledo’s fiscal budget had been broken for the longest time. Far too much of the city and county’s tax revenue had been used to fight organized crime. And so, the devilish mayor, Samuel Jenkins, had devised a plan he hoped would go a long way in reducing the city's crime fighting costs. In the short run, not so much, but the mayor had turned waiting into an art form. Eventually the savings in his scheme showed, insuring his reelections.
Mayor Jenkins and this Machiavellian Police Commissioner named Cedric Adkins had assembled a secret task force. It included no more than three of Toledo’s finest mercenary police officers. Each one of the offices had agreed to the mayor’s diabolical plan. Everyone swore an oath of allegiance. Cold, hard cash would be their reward.
Before the crafty mayor’s plan could take effect, he needed to iron out one weak wrinkle. He needed help from the forensics unit. It's not that it’s difficult to turn scientists into criminals. Just look at Nazi Germany. But recruiting had proved difficult. Max ran a tight ship. He had scruples and honor.
Mayor Jenkins being the tenacious sons-a-bitch that he was came up with a plan.
Max Ryan had become the mayor's target. Things would be golden if only he could convince Max to sign on to his diabolical blueprint.
But Max just happened to be from the Midwest. They are square shooters out there after all. But the mayor and police commissioner took a chance. It was like they knew Max’s psychological combination.
So after weeks of preparation, someone with a heavy hand and a black heart made a phone call. The landline phone had woken Max.
“What the hell. Who is this? Jesus Christ, it’s two in the morning? Max’s blood began to boil inside the rigid tension of his veins and arteries. He’d never gotten used to the late calls.
“You love your daughter, don’t you, Max?”
Max had to answer to make sure he wasn’t losing his mind.
“Of course I do. Who the F… is this? What in the hell do you want? Is this a kidnapping scheme?”
When the caller returned to the conversation, his voice sounded more relaxed and smoky. Max could hear the man on the other end as he swallowed. Max knew well how expensive Scotch can take your breath away with its sublime brilliance.
“Max, we are not into kidnapping, please? That’s a loser’s game. The F.B.I.’s onto that shit. Besides, we are family here. We love our daughters. We love our sons, Max.”
“Well, what do you want from me? Who are you?” quipped Max.
“Max, funny you should ask. In fact, we want almost nothing from you. What we are actually looking forward to giving you something.”
“What in the hell are you talking about? Who is this?” Max looked up at the ceiling to make sure it was still hanging there, that he wasn’t floating in space. He bit his lip from the anxiety.
“I’ll explain, Max,” said the confident voice on the other end.
Max sat up. He forced himself to say the word, ‘okay’. It was a little snappy, but not too harsh.
“Thank you, Max, for being so polite. We know a lot about you. We are counting on you to help us out with something.”
“Get to the point, please, whoever you are.” It had become apparent that Max had reached his outer limits.
“Hurry, hurry, that’s not like you, Max. In our line of work, patience is a virtue, as you well know. Let me get to the point. Max, we have gifted you three million dollars. The money has already been transferred to three specific banks in the Cayman Islands. You can make a phone call in the morning to ensure we are being truthful.”
The voice on the other end gave Max three phone numbers and the names of the banks.
“When you call, Max, make sure to use a pay phone.”
Max hurt deep down inside. He’d been an altar boy in his youth. While visiting his hometown in Nebraska as an adult, he stopped off at a local market to confess to the owner that as a child he’d stolen a few candy bars. Hell, he'd admitted to his ex-wife, Edna, that he’d been more in love with his work than her. He was honest to a fault.
But to protect his lovely daughter, Marci, Max would do anything in this god-forsaken world.
Max received detailed instructions. He was to arrive at room 1322 at the Park Lane Hotel in Toledo as soon as possible.
“Bring all of your gear and needed equipment, Max. We will provide breakfast and lunch. You will be working mostly alone.”
On the way to the crime scene, Max received another call on his car phone. He’d been provided exquisite details about how the crime scene needed to be shaped. There wouldn't be a trial after all. Not that Max could be sloppy, but he could at least be more artistic in his findings. Max also received additional information about how to arrange the evidence and what to take back to the crime lab. ”Max, your daughter graduates in a year, right? Is she still thinking about going to Stanford?”
“Yes,” said Max, annoyed.
”Well, now you won't have any problems paying for that damned expensive tuition, will you?”
“I guess not!”
“Thank you again, Max.” At the very instant, the phone connection fell off the edge of the old world. Max would never hear from anyone again.
Max worked diligently clear into the darkness of the next day.
He’d successfully removed and replaced fingerprints. He took photos that proved both victims had taken fatal shots at each other.
He deftly fitted the 40 cal Beretta in the left hand of Anthony C. Anastasia. After all, he’d seen photographs of Anthony using the same left hand while greeting a colleague. That’s how deals are sealed.
Max applied plenty of gunshot residues on the hands and arms of each of the victims based on the assigned gun.
If a crime scene needed to bury the truth, by pressuring Max, they’d gotten the right guy.
After Max put the final touch on the killing scene, he stepped out on the balcony to have a smoke. Several stories below, twelve to be exact, he ran his eyes over the circus below with all the gorillas waiting behind all the crime tape. Each gorilla was dressed in a tuxedo. They'd been released to the hotel bar just 15 minutes before the two murders occurred.
Outside, the wind felt cutting. Max would tell me that’s when he’d gotten the idea to move to Costa Rica.
After Max flicked the last ambers of a cigarette into the beginning of dawn, he slid the patio door aside and reentered the version hell he’d created. He inhaled the smell of drying blood and black gunpowder. It was the same smell that had paid the rent and food on the table and his daughter Marci. But, before that night, if the truth be known, Max would have performed his job for free if he had to. His counterparts thought of him as perhaps the best crime scene investigator on the East coast.
Max finished the camera work. He’d used 3-aminophthalhydrazide, better known as Luminol. He took chilling photos of gaping holes. He’d rearranged the bodies, but very carefully. The position of the bodies and the photographs would tell most of the story and tell it well.
Though he didn’t know it then, what Max had accomplished by creating misleading evidence would eventually come out. It would spark a massive gang war between the Toledo and New Jersey families that would last years.
During the next year, hundreds of gangsters would be murdered, or severely maimed. The gang war raged on and on, practically decimating the mob's presence in Toledo.
Even New York got in on the action. Both New Jersey and New York’s crime hierarchy had suffered. Most of the east coast crime families were severely weakened.
Countless crime fighting tax dollars had been put to better use over the same time frame.
Mayor Samuel Jenkins and his police commissioner had smugly watched from a safe distance as the crime wars raged, wars he’d set in motion.
But in truth, he would never truly be safe. None of us are safe in America. That’s why it’s so exciting to live here.
Jenkins had been re-elected mayor on two occasions. He’d met his goals and saved the city of Toledo a boat load of tax dollars. He'd nourished his ego. After all, that is what mostly all this death shit is about, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, what had occurred years before in a swanky hotel room would eventually get out. It always does.
That’s when the raging gang wars abruptly came to a halt.
For the next several years, most of the gang violence had been redirected to designated public officials. Even the retired mayor, Sam Jenkins, had met with a torturous death. Revenge by the mob is served with a lot of salt in the wounds.
* * *
Here at Uvita, we locals celebrate our friend Max with a yearly barbeque in honor of our ghosted friend. After all, he’s a legend. We party near Max’s old house close to this grove of palm trees at Cuento de Ballenas. The exact location of our parties is a carefully guarded secret. None of us intend to go missing.
The day before the feast, we sacrifice a fat pig. Next, we butcher it, removing all the guts and blood. Afterward, we use a portable propane burner to singe the hair off the pig's skin. Next, we stick the pig in the hot burning ambers and cover it up with burlap sacks and dirt.
Early the following evening, we unearth the sumptuous. After, we carve it up and serve it with the rest of the food.
We usually seat about thirty or forty Expats who’ve been invited, along with their guests. We overeat. We dance. And we make ourselves very happy, which is easy to do here in Costa Rica especially if you have drink in your hand.
We toast Max over and over again and any other excuse to get drunk. We toast him safe passage, having left his mortal coil.
That’s if he’s actually gone.
Once we’re good and shitfaced, we dance. Our favorite song is ”Last Dance,” by the legendary Donna Summers. We play the grooved vinyl over and over again on a plug and play turnstile run off a car battery. We all end up happy savages.
In the blackness of early morning we imagine the flickering sky dark disco ball, a forensic light source if you will.
We dance until the dawn cracks.
We dance as if we are beamed wavelengths from another planet. Because, in the end, friends, we have no other choice.
So, let's all dance the last dance, let's dance, let’s dance the last dance, tonight!
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