Jessica’s eighteen year old heart beat wildly against her chest. She could feel it, she would say later, once she landed on the beach below. Now, she waited impatiently, shuffling her weight from one foot to the other, as the hang glider harness was clipped around her body and checked and rechecked. She was not afraid to jump from the mountain top high above a Praia de Sao Conrado, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She was anxious to jump free from the earth-bound gravity, to soar with the other multi colored hang gliders as they circled the waters above the beach, or praia as the Brasileiros say.
She looked through the misty air that covered the earthen floor devoid of grass worn down by the multitudes that came before her and leapt, hearts pounding, into space from the wooden platform which jutted out over the edge of the mountain; a simple take-off platform for flight. No runways, no traffic control tower needed here; just courage and a sense of adventure which was the foundation of Jessica’s personality.
Twenty-three year old Antonio Josie had jumped free from the mountain-top hundreds of times since he began working at the hang gliding company. The money was good, the title Instrutor, offered him prestige; but, most of all, the chance to be at the beach each day was the draw for him. He loved the beach, his praia, and he loved to fly with the wind softly whistling around him.
Finally, when he had completed his pre-flight check of the glider, ensuring the harnesses around Jessica were secure, he climbed next to her and strapped himself into place and assumed his position. His arms stretched forward on a guide bar. He smiled at her, nodded his head, and asked in the Brazilian way with a thumbs-up hand motion if she was ready. She smiled broadly, gave the thumbs-up and looked over the rim of the mountain.
“Um, dois, três,” he counted in Portuguese, and they ran the few steps to the edge of the wooden platform and jumped into space, their bodies now parallel to the world below, free from its gravity. They circled slowly, freely moving with the wind as Antonio Josie steered the glider effortlessly.
The warm, moist air of the mountaintop engulfed her and she felt safe. Her senses were immediately heightened. Once the glider slipped under the misty air she could see a great distance across the ocean. The blue water of the Atlantic Ocean moved into the beach on choppy white legs that dissolved into the sand below. The glider turned into the face of the mountain where she saw the lush green plant life that inhabited its face. Below, dotted among the forest, were houses with terracotta topped roofs and blue colored swimming pools. Nearer the beach there ran a highway, its cars racing along then behind the stately high rise buildings and into the tunnel’s mouth at the base of the mountain. The soft rustling of the air was strangely quieter than she had imagined making for a peacefulness that joined with the salty air.
She flew as did any bird from its perch high atop the trees, but her spirit soared above and beyond her body. Her mind’s eye clicked image after image of the sea, the mountain and the long beach that held the water at bay.
Antonio Josie craned his head back toward Jessica, her curly hair flapping beneath the helmet. He motioned a questioning thumbs-up to see if she was all right. She responded with her own thumbs up and another broad smile.
Their slow descent widened above the ocean. Serenity slipped in as Jessica felt at ease floating in the air like so many sea gulls she had seen at home gliding on the winds over the Long Island Sound back in the United States. In the idyllic panorama of the sea, the beach and its beach goers growing larger as the glider descended, she noticed movement over the ocean. It was a simple boat bobbing gently with the rise and fall of the ocean waves before they joined together to meet the shore.
As she circled away from the ocean she saw two figures emerge from below deck. One enormously fat man and a much smaller man both dressed in banana yellow shirts. She spun her head around to see them, but lost sight momentarily as the glider began its steep descent toward the beach below. When the glider came around once again facing the ocean she saw the yellow clad figures were carrying a large dark bag, heavy from the way the smaller one struggled with it. Together they heaved it up and on top of the boat’s railing where they pushed the bag into the water away from the shore. The two men watched the bag sink from sight.
Jessica’s body jolted around to see the boat causing Antonio Josie to hold her arms and steady her movement. The serenity that was present moments ago was gone now replaced by fear.
“Not again,” she shouted to the ocean gods. “Did you see that? Over there. That boat!” she shouted above the wind and increasing noise of the ocean to Antonio Josie, as they readied to land.
His concentration was on landing them safely, readying his feet and hers which were attached by ropes so they mirrored his movement. They came into the sandy beach at a gallop and then slowed to a trot and finally a walk until they stood still. The glider pulled slightly against the wind as Antonio Josie put its nose down for anchorage.
“Tudo bem?” he asked, but she was not at all well.
“No, er, yes, it was great, wonderful. Obrigada,” she stammered.
She looked up and saw David running toward her, smiling and waving wildly. Then she turned toward the ocean and the boat to see it sail beyond the edge of the mountain, that touched the ocean, and disappear from sight.
David ran to Jessica just as they had met that first time on the beach in Long Island Sound. The colder, blustery days in April three years earlier had blossomed into a friendship, with perhaps more lying dormant waiting to be nurtured. He saw her take off the helmet, letting her auburn wavy hair fly free, and unsnap her harnesses with such vigor that it made him smile somewhere deep down inside. Same old Jessie, he thought.
“Jessie, how was it? Flying?” he asked.
“Jessica! Davey!” she answered angrily, calling him by the diminutive form of his name to get even.
David shook his head, laughed, “Okay, Jessica, how was it?” he repeated.
Jessica ignored his question and asked one of her own. “Did you see the boat that was out there?” pointing to the ocean.
David looked out to the ocean, “Boat? I don’t see a boat,” he responded with a questioning look back to Jessica.
“Not now, before, when I was landing?” she was surely agitated about something and David saw that it was important to her.
“Okay, slow down, take it easy,” was all he could get out before her petulant response.
“Don’t patronize me!” she ordered, and as soon as she said it, she was sorry. Jessica stopped talking and took a deep breath.
David stood watching her face change as it navigated through the process for which he had become so aware in the past three years. First came her passion for all things, then her keen intelligence followed, often equaling his very analytical mind. The final stage was resoluteness unequaled by humans, akin to a pit bull whose muzzle was clamped shut on an intruder. Jessica’s intruder was the boat and the questions it raised when the men who dumped something into the ocean.
Jessica’s eyes blinked to clear away the jumble of thoughts that raced through her mind.
Why did those men dump a heavy bag into the ocean and sail away? Was this like Old Jimmy Bedloe when he dumped that dead sailor’s body into the Long Island Sound? No, not the same, for sure! But, why? Why? What are they hiding?
Jessica turned away from David and Antonio Josie as her body erupted into a full blown dash to the base of the mountain’s rocky edge where it met the ocean.
“Jessica!” David yelled. “Where are you…? Oh, never mind,” and he ran after her.
Antonio Josie shrugged and returned to his hang glider to fold it up and pack it for the next trip from the mountain’s top.
Jessica reached the ocean’s edge and scrambled along the rocks to see around the base of the mountain where it protruded into the ocean. With full abandon for safety, she ran along the slippery rocks regaining her footing twice before tumbling into the ocean. When she reached the edge of the rocks she craned her neck to see around the edge, but it was no use. The boat was gone from sight.
Jessica stood huffing and puffing while anger mixed with defeat. Her fists, clenched into little balls, banged at her hips as though punishing something or someone.
“Jessica!” David yelled as he approached her, his eyes filled with her presence as she stood on the slippery rocks unmindful of the ocean’s waves pulling at her feet. “Come on back, it’s dangerous out there.”
Jessica turned to see David, twenty feet away on the slippery rocks, lose his footing and fall onto the rocks. She moved quickly toward him, but he righted himself before she could get to him.
“You all right?” she asked, when she was at his side.
“Me? Am I all right? You could have fallen, hit your head and drowned!” David’s eyes narrowed into his most serious state.
Oddly, a small smile peeped out onto Jessica’s face. “I’m okay.”
David had grown to his full adult height of six feet. His slender frame held the one hundred and fifty pounds easily but his broad shoulders declared future growth. Handsomeness had been delivered to his once boy-like face where a very fine growth of beard began accentuating his blue intelligent eyes. However, an innocent smile still resided there in moments when he was relaxed and carefree.
Jessica’s eyes looked down at his left knee which began to bleed slightly. “You got hurt. See?” pointing to his knee.
A wave clapped onto the rocks and almost knocked them off their feet. David grabbed Jessica’s hand, which she pulled away. “I can do it. Go, I’ll follow you.”
David obliged and began to make his way more carefully than before to the sandy beach followed by Jessica who couldn’t help but take one last look for the boat.
“Louco!” Antonio Josie declared as they reached the beach and safety. “Crazy! It’s very dangerous, what you did.” He stood shaking his head in disbelief.
“We’re okay. Nothing happened,” she answered.
“We’re fine,” David said.
Antonio Josie saw the blood on David’s knee. “Come, I give something for your knee.”
As they trekked back to the hang glider Jessica asked Antonio Josie, “Did you see that boat? They dumped a large black bag into the ocean.”
Antonio Josie merely shrugged. “No, I did not. I was landing my glider.”
“Jessica, it’s not what you think,” David said to Jessica.
“Yeah, I know, it can’t be the same…” she mused.
“What cannot be the same?” asked Antonio Josie, now interested in the drama unfolding before him. He dug out a small First Aide Kit, opened it and took out some salve, which he handed to David.
“Nothing, it’s nothing really,” David tried to deflect the direction of Jessica’s conversation.
But Jessica needed to get it out of her, “We saw a dead body get dumped into the water back home, in the United States, where we live.”
“Jess…” David began but was interrupted by Jessica.
“Yes, we saw an old man, a sailor, dump a body in the Long Island Sound and then…”
Now it was David’s turn to interrupt, “Jessica, Antonio Josie doesn’t need to hear this story, really.”
“Yes, he does,” said Antonio Josie smiling with anticipation and humor.
“You see, he’s smiling….” David said eyeballing Jessica.
“Listen, David, it happened – maybe not for the same reason, but I really think it happened again out there,” she turned to stare at the ocean waves.
“Now you must tell me exactly what you saw,” Antonio Josie said to Jessica, “please.”
After a deep breath, Jessica began, “When we were circling the ocean to land the glider, I saw a boat bobbing on the ocean. Then two men came from below carrying a very heavy bag…”
“How do you know it was heavy?” Antonio Josie asked.
“They struggled to hold the bag and lift it to the side of the boat’s railing…then they pushed very hard and it fell into the ocean and sank right away – it had to be heavy because it sank quickly.” She looked from David to Antonio Josie with questioning eyes.
Antonio Josie’s eye brows involuntarily spiked showing his disbelief and Jessica saw the reaction.
“Okay, you don’t have to believe me. Thank you for the flight,” she added dismissively. She turned to David for approval but all he could do was return her gaze with his own concern.
“David, I know what I saw,” and she turned from the duo in deep thought.
“No, no Miss Jessica, I believe you,” Antonio Josie began and Jessica turned quickly to face him. “But you cannot be so sure it was a body from so high above the ocean. Verdade?”
“What could it be? Why would someone dump trash into the ocean when there are plenty of places to dump?” she challenged.
“Maybe they were fishing and dumped their trash?” David offered half heartedly.
“So much trash that two people had to lift it? And why would trash be in a bag?” she continued her challenge. “In a bag as big as a man?”
Antonio Josie and David were silent. They looked at each other briefly then back at Jessica.
A gentle breeze played with her wavy, richly thick hair, and her eyes sparkled with intelligence and passion. She stood tall, pretty and resolute in David’s eyes. Antonio Josie just saw a pretty young girl full of life and he decided to help her.
“Maybe I can help?” Antonio Josie offered.
David and Jessica looked carefully at Antonio Josie for the first time. Antonio Josie wore his sincerity easily which David saw as troubling while Jessica became more excited.
“You would help me…er, us?” she asked with more exuberance than David appreciated. Then she cocked her head to one side and asked, “But how? The boat is gone and we have no proof that it was out there. And certainly no proof of what I saw.”
Antonio Josie drank in Jessica’s attention and he took full advantage. With furrowed brows he answered, “Maybe my friend Luiz can help…” he said matter-of-factly with a small shrug of his shoulders. His eyes then locked onto Jessica’s.
“Who is Luiz?” David chimed in.
Jessica shot a look at David that had only a few daggers, but daggers never-the-less.
“He is policia,” Antonio Josie answered looking directly at David. “Sometimes they are helpful.” He smiled ironically.
David didn’t return Antonio Josie’s smile. “I don’t know…getting the police involved in a foreign country…,” this he directed at Jessica. “We have no status here, no right to…”
“Verdade, eh, true but I do,” Antonio Josie interrupted, “and Luiz is my friend. No problem.”
David sighed in defeat and turned to Jessica who had retreated to her thinking place.
David knew he’d have to wait for Jessica to return to the present moment for when she slipped away to try and unravel a problem she was somewhere else in time. He’d tried to bring her back before but each time his attempts ended in failure or worse, she became angry with David for breaking her thought process. So, he had become accustomed to wait for her to return to him and the present. When she did she was excited about the new possibility. But, not this time.
Jessica’s eyes blinked back to the present and she saw David looking at her. She shook her head from side to side and declared, “I just don’t get it.”
“I must go back to the top. There is money up there for me to make,” Antonio Josie joked pointing to the mountain. “If you want me to speak with Luiz, meet me at that coconut water kiosk,” with a nod of his head toward the kiosk that stood at the edge of the beach and the promenade. He looked at Jessica for a response, but none came. So, he started gathering the glider for its ascent to the top.
“Wait,” David said. He turned to Jessica because he saw the conflict in her eyes. “Jessica, why not see what Luiz has to say?” He shrugged as though it was a simple thing. Secretly, he hoped Luiz would be able to put Jessica’s mind at ease with a simple solution.
“Yeah, let’s do that,” Jessica said half-heartedly.
“Muito bom, I will meet you there at six o’clock,” and he left the duo
“What time is it?” she asked looking at David’s wrist watch.
“Almost noon, let’s grab something to eat.”
“Sure, sure let’s eat. I’m famished anyway,” she managed a small smile.
“Great, I know just the place,” bringing vigor to the conversation.
They walked a few blocks from the beach along a street that ran perpendicular to it and into the main street that was full of noontime traffic and people scurrying everywhere. Teens gathered in groups, on vacation from school and mingled with the tourists holding smart phones that gave directions and information. Older men sat at the entrance to a small park chatting vigorously with a careful eye trained on any pretty young woman who happened to pass by. Mothers led children through the crowds of pedestrians that moved endlessly in every direction.
David stopped at the corner and looked right to left, up and down both sides of the avenida. Jessica saw him look around.
“Are we lost?”
“No, not lost just checking the route is all,” he said trying to hide his indecision.
A young teen boy and a pretty girl approached and spoke briefly in Portuguese. They looked at each other until he motioned for her to go toward David and Jessica.
The young girl with curly black hair and a light brown complexion approached them. She stood still for a moment organizing her words.
“Do you need to be helped?” she asked, and then she looked back at her companion for assurance. He merely smiled.
“Yes, obrigada,” began Jessica.
The two young women looked at each other for a moment and then they both laughed feeling comfortable with each other.
“We are looking for a place to eat, comida a peso,” David said.
The young Brazilian boy joined in, “Comida a peso,” with thumbs up. “Muito bom.” He pointed down the street and signaled to the opposite side of the street.
He too tried his English, “Very good,” his head nodding approval.
“Obrigada,” from Jessica.
The two sets of teens parted smiling feeling very good about their brief meeting.
David and Jessica walked in the direction where the young Brazilian teen had pointed. In two blocks on the opposite side of the street there was a small restaurant packed with people getting their mid-day meal.
They entered and saw a feast of food displayed at various stations where people lined up, piled food of their choice onto heavy paper plates and moved along amicably to the end where the plate was weighed and the price paid by the weight.
“Cool,” Jessica whispered.
“My Dad told about these places, comida a peso, he called them, inexpensive good food that you pay for by weight. You hungry?”
Jessica thought for a second as she looked around at the exotic food wafting a mixture of smells that she had not known until that moment. “Very,” and in her manner she took a plate, got in line and began to fill her plate with food not bypassing a single serving tray.
David mirrored her behavior. They received smiles from an elderly woman who was behind them. At he register, they each paid. As they walked away the elderly woman said, “Enjoy,” in unaccented English.
“Thanks,” David said.
“Obrigada,” Jessica responded and giggled a little.
They looked around the restaurant for a place to sit and saw none.
“The park?” he asked.
“Great,” she answered.
On a spot of grass in the park they sat balancing their plates as they cut food into bitable sizes with plastic forks. Each ate hungrily, David hummed and Jessica’s feet tapped involuntarily, both lost in the moment. Forks scooped up rice, beans and meats flavored with new tastes. David’s mouth was soon encircled by the brown meat sauce. He didn’t notice but Jessica did and she motioned to him that he had something on his face. David’s blue eyes searched for the napkin that neither had thought to bring and shrugged sheepishly. He wiped his mouth with greasy fingers, laughed and continued to eat.
Jessica looked long and hard at David. Their three year friendship had grown from those first days of great mystery, searching for answers that seemed unsolvable back in Long Island, New York into a very comfortable relationship. They knew each other and had accepted each other as they are today. She knew that and felt very good about it as she watched him juggle his food.
David saw her looking, “What? More food on my face?”
“Yes,” she jokingly pointed to his nose, his cheeks and his ears, but he knew better and just kept eating. His eyes surreptitiously swept toward her, but she had returned to her plate of food.
“Hello again,” a female voice from above.
The elderly woman from the restaurant stood smiling at them.
“How do you like it?”
“Delicious,” David offered.
“Good, I’m very glad,” she smiled a grandmotherly smile.
Both had a puzzled expression on their faces and the woman noticed. “The restaurant is owned by my daughter and son-in-law.”
In unison they answered, “Oh.”
Still smiling the woman asked, “Is this your first visit to Brazil?”
“Yes,” David managed to answer after a quick swallow of rice.
“And do you like my Brazil?” the woman asked with unending pride.
“Yes, we do,” Jessica answered with passion equal to the woman’s.
She watched the two young people eat their meal for a moment. “What brings you to Brazil?”
“My Dad is a journalist covering the World Cup,” David said.
“Muito bom. It will be wonderful when Brazil wins the Cup,” she said wistfully. “Schools will close, people will not work so much, Brazil will stop and be as one behind our futeball team.”
“And if Brazil does not win?” David said as Jessica’s elbow dug into his side.
The woman laughed with great pride, “Of course Brazil will win the Cup.” The unlikely trio laughed together.
Jessica’s eyes caught sight of a banana yellow van on the street as it drifted by in the heavy noonday traffic. In the front seat she could see a huge man at the wheel wearing the same banana yellow colored shirt that she saw on the boat. No sign of the little man. The letters on the side of the van were obscured by passing traffic. The very obvious banana yellow soon disappeared up the street and around a corner.
Jessica jumped to her feet as her food spilled to the ground. The elderly woman stepped back away from the Jessica.
“Jessica? You okay?”
Her head bobbled back and forth from David to the avenida now devoid of the banana yellow van. David rose carefully, holding onto his empty plate.
“The comida is not good?” the woman asked.
“No, no,” unable to offer an explanation that was much too complicated to explain.
“What is it Jessica?”
“I think I just saw one guy from the boat drive by in a van. The yellow van,” she was now impatient to race off after the van, to follow her clues.
“How could you know…?” he began
“The two guys wore bright yellow shirts the same color of that van and in front was a very fat man driving.”
“The two guys on the boat, one very fat guy and one little guy, both wore the same color shirts as…,” she pointed down the avenida.
There it was the face that had first attracted David. The face filled with curiosity, passion and the need to resolve a mystery.
“I have to,” she began, “we have to find them.” Her head cocked in the van’s path away from them.
Jessica saw the elderly woman’s face staring at her with concern. Jessica was momentarily embarrassed. She shook her head, blinked her eyes as though to clear her thoughts and then returned the look of concern.
“What is it minha filha? Why are you so upset?”
“I cannot say,” she turned to David. “We should go.”
David helped her clean the grass where her food had toppled and deposit all into a nearby trash can. They left with a nod to the woman and walked briskly down the avenida in the van’s last direction.
When they had reached the first corner, Jessica stopped. “Where am I going? What am I doing? It’s gone. We’ll never find it.”
Jessica’s shoulders dropped registering failure.