Remittences by Pamela Ebel

Sofia Rojas inhaled the steam rising from the ancient cast iron pot. Like all of the Rojas women, at fifteen, Sofia possessed the exquisite sense of smell that told her what spices to add and when the food was done. She dropped the last of the beef into the pot, closed her eyes and breathed in the steamy scent of the Menudo.

“What does my daughter’s exquisite sense of smell tell her is needed in the soup?”

Carleda Rojas stepped to the stove, leaned over the pot and breathed deeply. She turned to Sofia in surprise.

“Mija this is beef, not tripe. How did you pay for this?”

“It was going to be a surprise Mommy. You’re home early. Is everything okay?”

“The water pump at the diner died again. But, don’t change the subject. How did you afford the beef?”

“Your beloved son Jorge called this morning. He got paid early and told me to cash the remittance check that came today. The Covid overtime at the hospital gives him fifty extra dollars a week and he wanted me to hide that. He said to plan to leave San Salvador for Los Angeles soon. He sent Oregano, my college application and things for my school projects. I bought groceries and then hid the rest of the money to keep it safe from…”

“Keep what safe Sofia?”

Carlos Geismar, El Hombre de Remesas, the Remittance Man, was standing in the kitchen door. Running the largest extortion operation in San Salvador he knew the remittance payment schedules of the city’s poor, unprotected citizens. Since their father’s death and Jorge’s move to California the Rojas women were in that group.

“Senora Cruz at the grocery tells me you bought some beef this morning. And I thought you might be doing favors to get extra money without letting me help you. But then I learned your remittance check came early. You weren’t going to keep it from me, huh? But I will still do you a favor if you do one for me.”

Geismar was fifty, balding, with a belly hanging over the belt of his white linen pants, the jacket stained with sweat. He looked Sofia up and down as Carleda stepped in front of her daughter. It was then that he saw the soup pot and smelled the aroma.

“Menudo, with beef.”

He smiled, grabbed a large bowl and filled it with soup and most of the beef and sat down. “A beer Sofia! And then the money.”

Sofia set the beer bottle on the table and went to her room bringing back all of the money except the extra fifty.

Geismar smiled smugly, finished the Menudo, guzzled the beer, belched loudly and looked at his watch.

“I am late for another remittance visit but I’ll be back.”

As he left Sofia picked up his empty bowl and froze as her exquisite sense of smell took over.

“Did he use those packets Mommy?”

“He poured half in before I saw him. What spice beside oregano did Jorge send? This smells like burnt almonds.”

“It is ground Millipedes They produce Hydrogen Cyanide. For my science project I wanted to test how lethal it was. What happened to the poison sticker that was on the packet?”

Before Carleda answered Sofia ran to the window as she heard yelling. Geismar stumbled and fell into the street a block away. Dr. Flores ran out of his office to help but finally stood and pronounced El Hombre Remesas dead from a heart attack.

“I should tell the police what happened. I’m responsible.”

Carleda turned and poured the leftover powder down the drain. She took the poison sticker hidden in her hand and placed it in her pocket. Then she scoured Geismar’s bowl until her exquisite sense of smell was satisfied. She joined her daughter at the window and watched the police and undertaker place Geismar on a stretcher and saw the smiles on the faces of their neighbors as they drove him away.

“No Sofia, you’re not responsible. His greed was. Now he will report to a higher power, and will have to remit what he owes”.

Love and Death at the Red Onion. by Pam Ebel

“What do murderers look like Professor Crawford?”

Natalie Crawford turned in her seat at the front of the bus to stare at her class. The twelve students were juniors at the local college. Natalie’s course on “Advanced Studies of the Criminal Mind” was required for the Bachelor’s Degree in Criminology that each sought. But one student in particular, seemed fixated on fleshing out the contours of those who had taken the life of another human being.

“Well, Cora if we knew what a murderer looked like we might be able to get one step ahead of someone planning a murder, or someone capable of killing in a moment of passion or lack of compassion. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to create a test for that.”

Cora Bradford considered the answer as the bus pulled up to the penitentiary entrance. Built in 1998 it was a Super-Max facility housing 848 of the most violent prisoners in the state. The students would meet with the warden, prison psychiatrist and three men convicted of murder who had agreed to being interviewed. The class stared out the bus windows at the guard tower where a uniformed man with a rifle stood peering down at them.

Once inside the office Natalie and the students went through the metal detector and checked purses and book bags. They were then escorted to Warden Dan Dunsford’s office for a two hour question and answer session on how convicted murderers were handled at the “Onion” as the prison was known. At noon they met for lunch with some of the staff.

The warden guided the group into the large, state of art kitchen area, where meals were prepared three times a day for over eight hundred inmates and the staff that tended to them. He explained that a new program trained prisoners to work in the restaurant industry upon release.

The group noticed two prisoners in a corner of the prep area putting together a two tiered cake and arranging plates, cups, plastic forks and spoons and ice cream containers on a cart.

“Do you celebrate birthdays with parties and cakes?” asked a wide eyed student.

The warden smiled.

“No, but today is unusual. A court granted a prisoner the right to marry a woman he has known for some time and allowed for cake and ice cream after the ceremony.”

 “Oh yeah. That guy that killed at least 14 or 15 people all over the U.S.” another student offered.

The students had moved closer to look at the cake and continued to discuss whether it was right to allow for such an event for a convicted serial killer. They noted the prisoner was even getting his own small container of peppermint ice cream as a gift from his bride.

The three murderers who were to be interviewed arrived in the kitchen. They shuffled by in shackles, whistling and catcalling to Natalie and the female students, diverting everyone’s attention. Eventually, the students joined them in a conference room.

At 3:30, with the field trip completed, Natalie and the students boarded their bus and rolled out the gate just as an ambulance roared in. Everyone except Cora turned to watch. At 4:30, pulling into the school parking lot the radio music was interrupted:

“At approximately 3:00 this afternoon, convicted serial killer Carl Courtland died of respiratory failure from an apparent overdose of drugs, shortly after marrying his longtime fiancé. A source that did not wish to be identified said a note, found taped to the bottom of the victim’s special order ice cream container read:

“Revenge is a dish that tastes best when served cold.”

Don Corleone

Everyone sat silently for a few minutes and then Natalie guided the students off the bus.

Cora Bradford, the granddaughter of one of Courtland’s victims killed eighteen years before, said goodbye and headed to the city bus stop. As she walked, Cora caught a glimpse of her reflection in a passing car window and wondered again: “What does a murderer look like?”