"That's not all he is," I said. "I've been to his dilapidated old shack about 14 times this week, and each time I've been told he'll be right back, but I can't seem to catch him. I've had three taxi drivers on his trail, and they can't find him either. I seriously doubt that he exists. I think you've made him up."
"Oh, ho, ho, my dear chap," the official said, his checks jiggling with laughter. "You'll find out he's no spook. He'll turn up, just you wait and see. And when you least expect him." Exactly.
On our last night in Belize City my wife and I sat up late, pouring alcohol on the festering bites of sand flies to pass the time. Around midnight the phone rang. "This is Jackie Vasquez," a reedy voice said. "I've come to talk to you."
I dressed and dashed down to the deserted lobby and found a dough-faced middle-aged man of about 5� feet, a beautiful black nymphet at his side. "I'm Jackie Vasquez," he said, shaking my hand. He didn't introduce the girl. Instead he said, "Look at her. Isn't she nice? She's a sweet little baby. Just 16, she is. She stays in my house."
As we were repairing to an upstairs hallway for our talk I remembered some of the tales I had heard about the nondescript-looking Vasquez. Mrs. Fred Keller had told me, "When we first came here, I was going to hunt with him, and all the Belizeans who work at our lodge became hysterical. They told me, 'Don't go, Mrs. Keller! Don't go! That man will steal your soul.' One of the girls told me that if I went hunting with Jackie Vasquez I'd never be seen again."
Philip Andrewin had told me, "They say a lot of weird things about him, and some of it is folklore, but for sure he's not your typical person. Once you look at him you'll realize right now this is a superhuman being. He's different! Some claim he's the devil himself."
Rudolph Castillo, a calm, intelligible, reasonable man, had become no less excitable on the subject. "That Jackie's a wild one!" Castillo had said. "He talks to jaguars. He calls them right out of the bush. He does the same with crocodiles! He's been up for murder three times. He has a family, 43 kids, scattered all over. No, he's never been married. He's our swinging bachelor type. He's also a snake man. He's been bitten by rattlesnakes, fer-de-lance, coral snakes, all our poisonous snakes, and he just shrugs it off."
Vasquez and I took seats in a darkened hall, and it was too late at night to play with words. "Well," I said, "what about it? Are you in league with the devil? Do you talk to jaguars? Do you have 43 kids?"
The guide laughed. "I have 22 kids, I think," he said, "but I only have to take care of the little ones. No, I'm not in league with any devils, but I do call jaguars. I have a gourd with a deerskin top on it and a horsehair stretched tight. I pull up and down on the horsehair and it vibrates the skin, and it makes the same sound that a jaguar makes when he's out calling other jaguars at night—sort of a panting, quick noise, like an owl out of breath, ooh! ooh! ooh! It scares hunters when they hear me do it."
"Do the cats ever come close?"