“Felicia!” A woman came running as Aaron and his brothers entered the plaza with Felicia, Kisa, and Joab.
“Xpiayoc!” Felicia finally released Aaron’s hand and ran ahead to give her friend a hug.
Aaron discretely shook out his hand and wiped the sweat on his jeans. That was the longest time he’d ever held another person’s hand. Ten seconds later he longed to hold her again. He was becoming increasingly addicted to Felicia Cohen.
He approached the reunited childhood friends, staying a few feet back until Felicia realized he was there and pulled him close to introduce him to Xpiayoc. The woman pulled him into a hug and said something in a language he didn’t understand.
“She’s welcoming you to her village,” Felicia translated into Spanish. “They all understand the ancient Mayan language even though they mostly speak Spanish.”
“Do you know how to speak the Mayan language?” Aaron asked Felicia, realizing a little more how smart she was. Her childlike jubilance hid her intelligence well and he wondered if she used that to her advantage.
“Just a few phrases,” Felicia said. “That one’s easy because it’s so commonly used.”
“Thank you for that warm welcome,” Aaron said in Spanish, turning to Felicia’s friend. “Do you understand me?”
“Of course, I understand you,” Xpiayoc answered in Spanish. “Although, you are not very good at speaking Spanish.”
“No, I’m not,” Aaron acknowledged. “But I’m learning as quickly as I can. I have the best teacher in the world.” He pulled Felicia close and wrapped his arm around her back.
“And I am learning a little bit of English,” Felicia said in Spanish, pride creeping into her voice.
“Is this your husband?” Xpiayoc asked Felicia.
Aaron realized he hadn’t introduced himself. “I am Aaron Sayid, Felicia’s future husband.”
“Oh really?” Felicia looked up at him with a playful grin. “You have finally resigned yourself to the inevitability?”
“Honey, I resigned myself the first time I looked into your eyes.” They locked gazes for a few seconds and something passed between them that was powerful. Then they were interrupted.
“Let me get you some food and we can explain the situation with our missing daughters,” Xpiayoc said, waving them along.
He and Felicia followed, once again holding hands. Aaron felt whole again just connecting with her. He was keenly aware of his brothers behind him along with Kisa and Joab.
The food was delicious and abundant. A spicy meat with rice and homemade tortillas. Aaron’s mouth watered when the plate was placed before him.
He lost his appetite once the tribal chief began speaking.
“There is a stream nearby that we use to bathe and wash clothing. The first time one of our girls went missing we believe she went down to take a bath. She never came back. We insisted no one travel outside the immediate village alone. The second time, two girls disappeared at once.”
Aaron looked around the area they referred to as the village and couldn’t find any clearly defined boundaries. The trees were dense, the ground uneven and rocky, houses were built haphazardly and without design. The ancient structures of the Mayans were covered in hundreds of years of vegetation until the beauty that likely reigned in this area was shrouded and unrecognizable.
“Do you know for certain the girls were taken by people rather than wild animals?” Aaron asked.
“Yes, one of the younger girls in our tribe saw the two teenage girls being stolen by two men. The little girl couldn’t even scream fast enough to get anyone’s attention. She ran back to get help but by then there was no trace of the girls or the men. They had disappeared.”
“Did the little girl give a good description of the men?” Aaron asked.
“She said the men’s skin was light, very light compared to the girls.”
“That doesn’t sound like Belize,” Owen said. “Sounds more like Americans or Europeans.”
“Americans are the people paying big dollars to purchase sex slaves.” Joab’s statement was so matter of fact he could have been talking about the weather. “Dark skinned beauties are in high demand. Especially virgins.”
“That’s terrible.” Felicia tucked herself into Aaron’s side as if afraid she’d be the next person kidnapped if Aaron didn’t protect her.
He wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close hoping to reassure her that he’d never let anything happen to her. He wished he could make sure nothing happened to any other girls.
“How many girls total have gone missing,” Kisa asked.
“Twenty-three,” the tribal leader said. There was a collective gasp between Aaron, his brothers, Felicia and Kisa. Joab didn’t seem surprised. Or if he was, he didn’t let his face show his emotions. “We are at a loss what to do.”
“Let us give it some thought and consult with our families,” Aaron said. “Our grandfather is a United States senator. He might have some ideas as well, especially if we can somehow prove that Americans are involved.”
“If we don’t know where they’ve gone, or who took them, how can you prove there are Americans involved?” Xpiayoc asked.
“I suspect we do know where they’ve been taken,” Joab said. “There is a thriving sex-trade and human trafficking operation in the harbor town of Belize City.”
“Good, we can go find our missing girls,” Felicia said with excitement.
“It’s not so easy.” Joab shook his head with sympathy. “You can’t just go walking up to the men and ask where they’re keeping their slaves. Especially a pretty girl like you.”
Felicia tucked herself close to Aaron again.
“Why isn’t someone doing something about this?” Aaron was beyond frustrated and having trouble keeping his anger at bay.
“There is a great deal of corruption within the Belize government,” Joab said. “One of the many reasons why Felicia didn’t want you to come to Belize. You are patronizing the enemy.”
“You sure know a great deal about all of this for just being a limo driver,” Aaron said with suspicion.
“Yes, I do.” Joab grinned with pride. “You’d be surprised what people say in the back of your limo when they don’t think you’re listening and assume you don’t understand English.”
“Huh… good point.” Aaron thought back to some of the things he and his brothers had done in the backseats of limousines. He glanced at Hayden and Owen and all three of them cringed. “Well, this has been an enlightening conversation.”
“How about if we take you for a tour of the village and you can get a better idea of where the girls were taken from and possibly interview some of the families involved,” the tribal leader said.
Aaron wanted to remind the man that they were not detectives but decided to follow the leader’s direction. Maybe later, he and his brothers could brainstorm with Felicia, Kisa, and Joab. He was determined to help somehow.