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The bus from Cartagena

Tabby sat back in her seat, swatted a mosquito from her arm, and said, "Ouch." The bus rumbled and wobbled along a rocky road, every now and then dropping wildly into a pothole, sending Tabby flying off her seat a foot into the air. With her five-foot-seven frame, she was better able to steady herself by grabbing the seat in front of her. Kat and Dolly, however, were popped into the air like hot, buttered kernels.

"When is this goin' to be over?" said Dolly, in the seat next to her, fanning herself with a celebrity magazine pulled from her floral handbag.

"Never. Ever.," Kat said, seated across the aisle from her two best friends and next to a leather-faced farmer wearing overalls, a straw hat, and carrying a live chicken in a cage on his lap. The man's head was bobbing up and down against the cloudy, dusty bus window. He was fast asleep.

The bus rumbled over another hole in the dirt road, sending the chicken into a clucking fit and causing Kat to flinch and jerk in surprise. As her heart rate calmed again, she yanked a silver-ringed thumb toward the farmer. "How is this dude still asleep with all this racket? And the bouncing? Unbelievable!"

Tabby pulled her stringy blonde hair into a rough ponytail. "No idea." She looked at her wristwatch. "We should be getting close."

Dolly rolled her eyes and sighed deeply. "Why on earth did Mrs. Bumble send us on this crazy ride into the jungle alone?" Dolly waved a hand around the full, cramped bus. "Look at this thing! Really, Tabitha, I thought when we were planning our international travel, we'd have much more luxurious travel accommodations. I mean, really."

Tabby shot a look at Dolly like 'gimme' a break'. "Dolly . . . you know what we are doing in South America. We're not on vacation. We're searching for my dad."

Dolly patted her wilted, sticky platinum blond bob. "Well, yes, of course. But that doesn't mean we can't travel with a little style, does it?" Dolly glanced out the window. A patchwork of green and brown was visible as the bus passed lush, rolling hills and even small waterfalls and springs. Dolly continued," I don't need first class or anything, but a little warm washcloth for my face would have been nice. Or some hot green tea . . ."

"Uh . . . look around you, Dolly. There's no hot tea on this rig. We're lucky if this clunker makes it to the village," Kat said with a scoff.

The public bus was not exactly an old school bus, but it was close. There were wire racks above the seats filled with luggage, crates of food and supplies, garbage bags of who-knew-what, and a couple of animals--a quiet yellow bird and a small puffy-haired dog panting wildly in a carrier stuffed between two suitcases.

The passengers were from all walks of life - some country folks in farming outfits, locals in colorful dresses and shirts, and a few sunburnt tourists snapping photos out the windows at every jungle path or cluster of wax palms they passed.

A blast of Latin music suddenly cranked up from the back of the bus. A young woman in a red-trimmed white sundress stood up and started swinging her hips to the lively music. A head-wrapped stern woman next to her with a baby in a sling grabbed her arm, said something rapidly in Spanish, and pulled the girl roughly back down into the seat. The young dancer squealed, laughed, and turned off the small boombox in her seat.

"For the love of Saint Nicolas!" said Kat, startled again by the chicken clucking wildly at the hubbub. "Tab' what did Bumble say when she left the airport? I didn't hear the whole thing. Something about a message from the Catala Brothers?"

"Yeah," Dolly chimed in. "Where did she have to go in such a hurry? I mean we barely grabbed our luggage from the baggage pick up and she was off like a hot race horse at the Derby!"

Tabby shrugged. "Not totally sure. It sounded like an emergency that the Brothers needed help with. When we landed she had a message on her cell phone. She said she'd meet us at El Palacio de la Jungla and we should go ahead and get settled."

"Well," Dolly said, pulling out a can of tropical-scented body spray. "I cannot WAIT to get the hotel. I really need to freshen up after that flight from Miami." Dolly spritzed herself liberally with the spray.

"Dolly!" Tabby called out, coughing and waving the cloud of spray from her face. "Give it a rest!"

The two Colombian women behind Tabby and Dolly, completely silent until now, hacked violently at the scent. The older woman, in a red, yellow, and green ruffled dress spasmed in a coughing fit, while the younger, in a colorful head wrap, patted her hard on the back and shook her shoulders. "Mama!" the younger woman yelled. "Estás bien?"

Kat jumped into action. She crossed the aisle and said to the young woman, "Puedo ayudar? Can I help?"

The frightened woman moved quickly out of the way and Kat took her place next to the hacking older woman. Kat reached over her head, opened the top half of the window, and pulled the woman up to breathe in the fresh air. After a few large gulps, the woman's coughing subsided and she seemed to be okay. Kat handed her a small unopened bottle of water and said, "Beber. Drink."

The woman took a few sips of the water, smiled, and patted Kat on the arm. "Gracias, dulzura."

Dolly, oblivious to all this, put the cap back on her body spray and was about to drop it in her purse when Kat reached over the seat, grabbed the floral-covered can, and chucked it summarily out the open window.

Dolly's mouth opened wide, but before she could say a word, Tabby pulled her down into the seat, put a finger to her lips, and whispered fiercely, "Not a word."

Dolly pressed her lips together, crossed her arms in protest, and gave Kat the stink eye as hard as she possibly could.


I hope you enjoyed this preview of Chapter 1 of the second book in the Ms. Mulligan series - Ms. Mulligan and the Council of Butterflies, coming in 2019! So . . . please keep your body spray to yourself and have a wonderful weekend!

Tiffany Elaine

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