Two-thirty, and he couldn’t find them anywhere. He had caught Vic napping and he found Bo seducing the front desk clerk, but where were Lazaro, Kalila, and Nevin?
Ricky went outside, his sense of foreboding turning to panic when he discovered a set of heavy footprints leading toward the uncleared land behind the hotel, accompanied by a deep groove in the earth that looked like a drag mark. Ricky followed the footsteps, lost them, found them again, then lost them for good among the brush. He was about to give up when the sound of someone speaking stopped him in his tracks.
It was a gentle, querulous voice, and although he couldn’t make out the words, the speaker appeared to feel strongly about something. Following the sound, Ricky picked his way through the undergrowth and hesitated on the edge of a clearing.
Lazaro stood over a muddy patch of recently turned earth, his features closed and hostile to Nevin’s pleading. Kalila cut Nevin off with a gesture and began shouting in a fast skittering language, punctuating her words with sharp gestures. Lazaro snarled and made the occasional blunt response, to no avail.
Ricky watched and listened for several minutes, then decided to put an end to the matter. He stepped into the clearing. “That’s enough, guys. You mind telling me what’s wrong?”
All three fell silent and stared at him. It was Kalila who spoke first. “There’s nothing wrong, Ricky.”
“Nothing that’s your business,” Lazaro added.
Nevin offered a tentative smile. “And it’s resolved now, anyway.”
“Well, you’re running late. You’re supposed to set up at three, and instead you’re out here in the mud, up to no good.”
Kalila came toward him. “Honestly, Ricky, paranoia is very unattractive. Don’t we pay well enough for you to hire a therapist who can help with that?”
“All I know is that Lazaro isn’t into nature walks, and whenever you talk in your demon language, it’s so no one will know the latest trouble you’ve gotten into.”
She took his arm and started leading him back toward the hotel. “You’re such an American. I bet you don’t know any other languages except your own, do you? When you’re multi-lingual, some words just come more naturally in one language than another. It doesn’t mean we’re hiding anything.”
“If you knew how complicated English was, you’d understand why we don’t like it much,” Nevin said, falling in behind them.
“Too many consonants and strange word constructions,” Kalila agreed. “Our own language flows. It has a rhythm to it, like the way water flows. It’s easier to speak a language that isn’t cluttered up.”
“So please don’t take it the wrong way,” Nevin said.
Ricky nodded, reassured, then stopped and looked back. Through the branches, he could make out Lazaro stomping on the mud, as if tamping down something that lay beneath. “Tell me he’s not doing what I think he’s doing.”
Nevin turned to Kalila, wide-eyed, and blurted something Ricky didn’t understand. Kalila answered with a scowl and a gesture.
“If I find out anyone’s gone missing from this hotel…”
Kalila said something that sounded like an order, and Nevin dashed toward the trees. Then she tugged on Ricky’s arm again, all smiles and placating words. “You need to trust us. We’ve been around a lot longer than you have, you know.” She met his skeptical gaze and gave a little shrug. “Okay, don’t believe us. Be paranoid whenever we speak in our own language. But about that therapist…”