Payasos: a novel: Chapter 1
Richard Wilson stared out the window at the streets below. It was a beautiful day for a circus, he thought next. And indeed it was. Under the bow tie sun a Dantesque circus had arrived in Lima, Peru. Abimael Guzman, the great and feared leader of Sendero Luminosos...the Shining Path Guerilla movement...played the ringmaster. The Peruvian Government conducted the orchestra. The crowds, well they played the bit roles: clowns. The circus began precisely at eight A.M. At this designated hour armed soldiers bodily carried Guzman from his prison cell and placed him inside a lions cage that was in turn loaded aboard a flatbed truck. As soon as the cage was locked, an order was barked, and the truck began its ponderous journey to the Palazia de Justice. The truck followed the wide recently washed clean boulevards where every mile serious faced statues of long dead Generals stood erect...their only claim to fame: deposing a clone of them selves. To say the masses watched would be an understatement, they, numbering in the tens of thousands, thronged the sidewalks so that they pushed against the wooden barricades in the hope of catching a glimpse of Guzman. Guzman knew most came to see a lunatic, and a few a martyr, and he had long decided to mix martyrdom and madness; and done so extremely well. Guzman,
dressed in filthy rags which were the only clothes allowed him, rattled the bars while stomping and storming and ranting and raving about the cage, his fire red night black eyes glaring hatefully at the thousands lined up behind the barricades. The people were, except for an occasional tourist, good Godfearing church going middle class citizens of Lima...stout house wives with wide eyed baby's clinging to their shoulders, men with the grease of changing oil or the barbers shears washed from their hands, slim petite girls wearing the latest sample of fragrance they sold over store counters to the wealthy class...who took delight at spitting on him and heaving rotten eggs and hatefully shouting: Son of Puta! And maybe a whore had sired him. To read
the press releases the Peruvian government issued on almost an hourly basis Guzman's mother spread her legs wider than Mary Magdalene, his father the thief who shared the cross with Jesus and the feared man himself a devil worshiper who sacrificed children upon communism's black altar. And in truth Guzman had sacrificed many men and women and children. And in all honesty the government had, in the fervor of hunting down the last great South American Communist Greuerlla, sacrificed many. And Guzman thrived on the attention. Cage me. See me. And yes, fear me!
And the Govement officials wallowed in the glory of capturing this most feared man. We captured him. We caged him. We are the victor’s. For four days he had watched the scene, sometimes in person like now, and at other times on television. He wasn't troubled by the obvious curlty in locking a man in a lion’s cage and parading him as a specimen at a zoo. Nor was he swayed by the Peruvian government’s daily propaganda briefings. Had somebody inquired as to his disinterest, he would have honesty responded: It is not my job to take sides. This was true. He was the press liaison between the American Embassy and the press and his job was to filter the events, sanitize them so to speak. And he had done his job well. Right by the numbers. Otherwise known in Embassy jargon as A. O. (A. for the right answers to the questions thrown his way. And O. for Opinion...none.) He had done such a good boring job that most of the journalist had abandoned the daily news conference at the United States Embassy for the more laten thus more animated newsconference held at the Brazilian Embassy; besides the food was better at the Brazilian Embassy. The scene played itself out and the crowds, in two and threes shuffled away. Richard blew out a breath and grabbed his suitcase and headed out the door and the airport. He took a direct flight to Guatemala City, which was home. The flight was only two hours long and to occupy the time sipped on Bourbon on
the rocks while reading a week old issue of Time magazine, but he did not read so much as flip pages while mentally flipping through events in Lima. Although he sat in first class, more leg room, seat room, and first class passengers were the first to disembark, when the plane set down at the Guatemalan City Airport, he stayed in his seat sipping on bourbon while the other passengers scrambled to grab their luggage from the overhead compartments and push to disembark. He was in no hurry. He was home. Another five minutes one way or the other. Just relax. Actually it took fifteen minutes before the plane was empty of passengers. The head stewardess smiled at him. He returned the smile and pushed up from the seat and briefcase held in left hand left the plane. He retrieved his single suitcase and left the terminal. The moment outside, the familiar dilapidated billboard greeted him: Mi Guatemala Es Asi. The round washed out red on white Coke logo flanked both sides of the greeting. Usually when away on speical assignment, and upon returning, the Coke signs and the greeting brightened his mood. But not this time. Instead he suddenly felt almost lost. He quickly attributed this to the airport itself. The stench of rotting garbage lay scattered everywhere. A constant stream of dark gray exhaust spewed from the tailpipes of ancient cars and rickety buses idling at the curb. The air, thick, tar like, burned his lungs. A bevy of street urchins begged for spare change. They badly mangled the
six words of English they had managed to learn. "ust one Amercan uarter, plse mster." And taxi drivers hungrily reached for the single suitcase he carried. They had their seven words of English down pat. "Come, my taxi is right over here." He had one phobia. He despised the Indians touching him or the street urchins; he couldn't explain this phobia to himself...but the mere thought made his skin crawl. And at first he felt the all too familiar revulsion at the dirty little hands touching him. Reaching for him. And he shuddered. As quickly as the feeling had come, it fled. And for a moment the hunger and the fervor of the street urchins and the taxi drivers carried him back a few hours earlier to Lima, Peru. Guzman? The cage. The people jeering. Jesus! If there really is such a phenomenon as a sudden shock of selfdiscovery, it hit the moment Lima, the lion’s cage and Guzman's image faded. He found himself staring at the Coke logo while thinking: I can't take this anymore. And there it was just lying there inside him waiting waiting
waiting to be a rock turned over, he thought. Turn it over and inspect the rest of it. The backwater reasons. The other phobias. The...But he wasn’t afforded another second to inspect what lay under the rock. Tear it down. Reduce it to the nothing it was. Instead he quickly learned that there was a physical price attached to such an event as shock of selfdiscovery. He stood
frozen unable to move right or left or forward or backward. All the while the taxi drivers tugged at his suitcase, and the boys pleaded for spare change. Only his size kept them from sweeping him away. The boys were small and underfed, the taxi drivers, mostly his age, were of typical Ladino stature: Five two, a hundred and twenty to a hundred and fifty. He stood five eleven, and weighed in at one eighty. His weight leaned neither toward fat or muscle, but instead a sort of out of shape in between. Or as he saw it when shaving in the morning: a middle age lump. The arms, dirty fingers, tugged hungrily at the suitcase. His stomach curled. And the street urchin’s voices grew more threatening. He forced a deep in and out breathes, and violently pushed by the street urchins and taxi drivers and peddled forward for the parking lot and his car. Well chosen curses followed...the usual Latin slurs: his mother a whore, his father a thief. He ignored them and a few minutes later after passing over a wad of Quetzals to the youth who had spent the days guarding his car against thieves sat behind the wheel of his 1989 Toyota Supra convertible. The car was a comfort and a sense of relief filled him. A car can be like that, he tiredly thought. But despite its comfort when he held out his hands they trembled, so much so the key ring jingled. A few months ago before retiring for the night he had started taking a Valium to help him sleep and also to ward off the occasional hangover from
imbibing too much hair of the dog. He had never taken one during the day, but decided he needed something to calm him down...Bourbon was preferable...later, yes later. He removed the plastic pill bottle from the suitcase and broke a ten milligram tablet in half and crushed it between his molars. The pill, as usual, tasted bitter, and was followed by the usual involuntary shudder. The boy he had paid sat atop the hood of a burned out Ford counting, like a miser, the bills. Another boy stood and talked earnestly to the boy. He watched them, more to forestall any decision...which seemed all but impossible right then anyway. He felt lucky to have just made it to the car. As for what to do next, the mere thought plagued him. It wasn't that he didn't know what to do. He knew well enough what he should do. Although late Friday afternoon, it was procedure when away on assignment to immediately file a report upon returning. The report was faxed to Washington. He considered doing this for all of a second, and rejected it. Screw them, the report could wait until Monday. He took another second and considered going to Sam Wall's house. Sam also worked at the Embassy and was about as close a friend as he had at the Embassy. Sam worked as information officer for the C.I.A. For security reasons the Embassy allotted him an apartment located on the Embassy grounds. But he rejected this also. As a deterrent against bombs from 'The Leftist Guatemalan National
Revolutionary Front,' a fifteen foot high by two feet deep concrete fence surrounded the Embassy compound. Sam's apartment, located in the middle of the Embassy complex, afforded a view of the well maintained grounds instead of the concrete fence. But after Lima, Guzman, the lion’s cage, the thought of spending the night imprisoned in Guatemala City behind barbed wire and a concrete fence further depressed him. He only briefly considered visiting his girl friend, Crista. She was married to the German Ambassador and usually the Ambassador hosted an event on Friday: cocktail party or black tie dinner. Protocol required Crista to attend these Friday events. Home was his last option. His house was a single story Spanish colonial built some three hundred years ago. During that time a couple of earthquakes had damaged the original structure, but the previous owners had rebuilt the house. The man who he rented it from had gutted the inside and had overseen a complete rehab. The lower floor held a modern kitchen, bedroom, bath, living room and a study. The roof served as a terrace. But home was in Antigua, a colonial town about forty minutes outside Guatemala City. But in heavy traffic, or if the police or the military had set up a road block to check identity papers the trip could take anywhere from an hour to two hours. Although he dreaded the thought of a long drive, the thought of home comforted him. Celia, his maid would be there. He could, sipping Bourbon, sit on the roof terrace and gaze at the
volcano that the natives had long ago christened Aqua. Relax. A decision finally made, he sat there a few minutes longer.
The Valium had begun to work its desired effect and his mind began to loosen. As it did he dimly wondered if perhaps Lima and the barbaric cruelty of parading a caged man for the masses to ridicule was the beginning of the end for him. He had worked at the Embassy for a little over four years. During that time he had followed in detail three coup d'état, an ongoing civil war, and countless political assassinations; both by the government and the Guerrillas. The general consensus amongst Embassy personnel was that Guatemalan years were like dog years; one for seven, and five years the max before burnout set in...Inefficiency quickly followed. The State Department, quick to recognize burnout, just as quickly reassigned the man to a desk position in Washington. He had always performed his duties flawlessly, never allowing his emotions to bleed though and color his judgment. But he had almost done so today. Guzman. Funny. He had felt sympathy for a mass murderer. Maybe he was ready for a nice quiet desk job, he tiredly mused. He had expected the thought to sadden him. He had roots in Guatemala. Friends. A lover. But the thought didn't sadden him. Quite the contrary, actually, he felt a sort of relief; the kind of relief a man fears feeling, but once felt savors it. He sighed, a sigh of completion. A knowing end to the biggest fear of all: The everyday fear of waiting for the end to
come. A moment later the thought frightened the hell out of him. He was fifty six years old now. State would never offer a desk job to a person his age. State would retire him outright. At best a three month severance goodbye parachute, and a small pension. As he pulled away, he savagely thought: 'So s Nada.'
It was the rainy season. And a slight drizzle coated the road out of the city. As the road wove up into the mountains the rain increased in intensity, pounding, like thumbtacks, at the car. He paid the rain little heed as he muttered over and over: 'So s Nada.' Although a Spanish phrase, to his English trained mind 'So s Nada' was perfect for the shock he felt. So s Nada: I am nothing. And the phrase stuck like glue, nagging, taunting. The taunt didn't die out until he got caught behind a pair of what were fondly referred to by the tourists and local population as chicken buses. His hands began to sweat as the buses huffed along, barely going ten miles per hour. He truly feared the damn chicken buses and with good reason. They were rickety long ago used up Stateside school buses now held together by tape and glue and hope and prayer. The road leading out of Guatemala City curved upward into the mountains. Going around the curves, the brakes smoked under the pressure the driver's foot applied to keep the bus under control, and the
buses swayed and creaked under worn springs until it appeared they must tilt over. And at least once in a blue moon one went over the mountain, killing all aboard. Every few miles along the side of the road were clusters of crudely constructed wooden crosses. Draped over the crosses were once bright red and yellow but now sundried dead roses and purple cloth. The crosses and purple cloth and roses served as testament to the dead. This he feared most of all. That he would be passing a bus when it careened out of control and went over the mountain and be swept along with it to oblivion. The sole consolation: his name carved on a wooden cross. He fell into his usual habit and cursed them while making a move to pass; which turned out to be very difficult maneuver. The moment he made his move, the wet road narrowed, and skirting the edge of a twothousand foot drop, his tires kicked up muddy dirt. All at once the mud gave way and the tires lost purchase and the rear of the Toyota began to slide. To correct the slide he spun the wheel and shot forward in front of the bus to his right. He held his breath and when well past the chicken buses, softly whistled it. It was past five when he reached the turnoff for Antigua. The rain had stopped. But the outside air still had that misty afterrain quality to it. Off in the distance a white mist shrouded Aqua's peak. A few rays of daylight lingered, just
enough for him to revel in the abstract beauty the mist employed: shading the lush foliage, blurring the lines between trees and bushes. He never admitted this to a soul, but he saw Aqua as a she, and as always there was something beautiful about Aqua...enchanting, mysterious. Over the years he had vainly attempted to understand this enchanting mistress but her mystery eluded him. Perhaps if he had a poetic bent this understanding he sought would come to him. Perhaps not. As he pulled into the carport, Celia, his maid, stood waiting. He rarely returned home at a set hour, but she always stood waiting for him. He had once asked her how she knew, half expecting her to offer up some crap about how Indians had a sixth sense. But she was a devout Catholic and far too religious for such and merely replied that she had grown accustomed to the sound of his car. In the car port a gun metal Mercedes sat parked to one side. Crista, he thought, surprised, why she wasn't at the German Embassy. But before he had time to dwell on why, Celia opened the passenger door and took out the suitcase. "You look tired." "Long trip," he commented. She had worked for him since his first week in the house, and knew him well. And although she sensed more, her dark Indian eyes...black pearls, rarely if ever changed expressions.
Especially around him. She was the maid. He the master of the house. At first he was uncomfortable with this arrangement and attempted to engage her in conversation. To ease things, or to blur society’s boundaries between them. His middle class upbringing, he imagined. But his attempts were to no avail. She remained stiff and formal. After a few months he accepted the order of things. When he did so both of them were relieved. "Señorita Crista is here," she blandly announced, showing her ongoing displeasure at the affair between him and a married woman. She set the suitcase down on the foyer. "She waits on the terrace." "Any other messages?" "Señor Sam wants you to call him as soon as you arrive. It is urgent." Embassy business. It could wait. "A Bourbon, please." "No food?" "No. And afterwards you can go home." "I unpack your bag first." "Fine," he replied. Taking the stairs to the roof slowly and quietly, Crista didn't hear him approach. She lounged, unmoving so much as a muscle, in a deck chair, her back to him while facing Aqua. Her dark full hair obscured her face. But he wasn't prepared to see
her. The weight of her presence fell heavily upon his shoulders. "Waiting long?" he asked. "No, not really," she answered. "The Ambassador." "Richard." "Yes, I know," he wearily replied. "Unproper to mention him." "Richard," she calmly said, "Why? What good will it bring? We have each other. This is enough." Calm. Logical. Precise. So precisely German. Crista was all this. What did she see in him who was as typically American as she was German? They had met while attending a cocktail party at the German Embassy. He rarely attended such events. He found them pretentious at best, and besides preferred to whittle away the evening hours reading or hanging out at his favorite bar. He had spotted her from across the room talking to the Swedish Ambassador. She was attractive to be sure and he stared at her a moment too long and she caught him looking at her; he quickly shied away, telling himself the room was filled with attractive women. A few hours later, a little drunk, and because he didn't smoke a little nauseous from the smokeclouded room, went out to the balcony for some air. She stood there alone wistfully staring off at the stars. He wasn't shy around women, nor was he glib and smooth as other men to him appeared to be. Still he had mumbled
something inane about stars and romance going hand in hand. She asked flat off if he wanted to sleep with her. The question sobered him and out of self defense he asked, or joked, "Sure right here on the balcony." "American humor," she dryly responded and left him standing there alone wondering if he had imagined the entire conversation. The demands of work were such that he forgot the encounter entirely. A few days later, after work, after a few drinks at his favorite watering bar...and finally while lounging at home, she rang. The conversation went short and to the point. "I want to make love with you. Do you have a bed?" "Yes," he dubiously replied, thinking at the time: The woman is pulling my leg. But she wasn't and it began just like that. A few words on the balcony. A doorbell. A yes. A very long silent walk to the bedroom. A nervous wait during the shedding of their clothes. Their bodies pressing together while falling on the bed. He had known his share of women over the years, not a lot but at his age enough to draw comparisons...likes and dislikes, and although he thoroughly enjoyed her body, there was nothing overly sensuous about it. The small full breasts, the slight curve of her thighs, the way her pelvis tilted upward, the crest of its bone stabbing his groin when he thrust too deep and too hard. There was also nothing overly passionate about her. No moans. No screams. Just a
slight movement, and a tiny cry of release. Nothing else. Afterwards there was a firm goodbye handshake that left him wondering later on in the evening if he had dreamed the encounter. But the next day she called again. And the next, and next and next until the affair evolved into a relationship. Neither of them bothered to hide their affair...considering they both lived the Embassy life to do so was impossible. So he assumed from the beginning that the Ambassador knew about the affair. But he never outright asked. She had made it clear early on: all conversation concerning the Ambassador was off limits. Although he accepted these limits, he, from time to time, joked about them...mostly to get a rise out of her. His antics failed each time. Their affair had continued for almost three and a half years and during this time her tiny cry of release during love making was the closest he had seen her come to losing her composure. He kissed her on the mouth. Her lips were warm. "So what brings you up?" "There are guests from Germany. I came to purchase cloth for them to take home." She touched his leg. Her hand, warm, aroused him. "I missed you." "Thanks. It's good to be missed." "Yes," she said, staring off at Aqua, "How was Lima? I watched on the news. Horrendous. Such an uncivilized region."
How was it? I think I am burning out. If so, State will retire me. Send me packing back to the States. You. My house. Celia. My life here. Gone. Instead, not wanting to face further questions, he avoided the question entirely, "How long can you stay? An hour?" "I am expected back. But yes, maybe a little longer." Their conversation paused while Celia brought his drink. She had unpacked the suitcase and put the dirty clothes in the hamper. She would go home now unless he required anything else. He said no. Celia left. "She will never like me." "It's her religion," he said for the hundredth time. "Yes. Let's make love here," Crista said. The rain had left the air a bit chilly and he mentioned this and suggested turning on the electric grate. "I will lift my dress and sit on your lap. We will hold each other and gently rock back and forth and create warmth. Yes." A reply wasn't necessary. He wanted her. He wanted her bad. Because he felt alone and frightened, yes, but also because he always wanted her. He knew the latter was due to the uniqueness of their affair. She spent most of her time at the German Embassy. He in Antigua. This forced separation kept the socalled sexual coolingoff period that most couples go through from infecting them.
The emotions showed, and she, reading them, stood and
reached under her dress and pulled her panties down until they puddled at her feet. She stepped away from them and kneeled and undid his trousers and rolled them down around his ankles. She slid his underwear down around his knees, then stood, lifted her dress and slowly lowered herself until they touched. Then she gently pushed...nestling him snugly inside her. He thought: warm, so very warm. She wrapped her arms around his neck and gently rocked. Their lovemaking, familiar, nice, easy...like returning home after a long day at work and resting tired feet on an ottoman. But not thoughtless. Not blind, at least for him. He wondered during the entire time who would she make love with after he left Guatemala. The finish left him longing for more. But afterwards, Crista had to go. To protest. No. He had done so often over the years, and always received the same steady even response, "Richard, we take what we can."
Darkness had fallen, and Aqua's nearness cast a bootblack shadow over the Mercedes. He stood next to the idling car. The dashboard lights framed her face. Faint. Soft. They always had the same goodbye conversation and at first he played his well rehearsed part. "Be careful driving." "Richard," she responded in kind, "You always say this." He stared dully at the ground for a second before resting tired eyes on her. "Let's go on a picnic tomorrow. Say two. Say yes," he abruptly suggested. "Is something bothering you, Richard?" "No," he lied, "Just want to go on a picnic. Saturday is the day the Ambassador goes duck hunting." "Yes," She replied, "I will instruct the maid to pack a lunch." Bending forward. A question in her eyes, or so he imagined. She brushed his lips. Shifted into drive. For a moment he watched the Mercedes effortlessly move along the road.
Yes Richard, he thought. He brushed the rest of the thought away and followed the arc from the light in the carport back to the house. The house felt vacant without Crista and Celia...no, alone, almost as if he wasn't required. And was he really? He hadn't contributed a damn thing to the house, except for living there. Celia did. Celia, yes, she provided godliness to the house. He paid the bills, both bills...Celia and Crista. "Shit," he muttered, brushing a hand across his mouth. He attempted to fill the void inside him by puttering, first kneeling by the bookcase in the living room searching for something of interest to read. But the books there held little interest. The kitchen held promise in the form of a tumbler of ice and three fingers of bourbon. The bourbon tasted flat, and with only airlines food in him, went down hard. He carried the glass, going from room to room searching for something to do. But there wasn't anything to do. The dishes were neatly stacked in the drainer, and the garbage tied within a plastic bag and waiting by the front door. To put it out at night invited stray dogs or worse, locals who knew a gringo lived in the house suspected the garbage held worthwhile items and ripped the bag open and spread the contents on the street and sidewalk. The bedroom, no, sleep or watching television propelled him back to the bookcase. Same books. Same familiarity. For a brief second he considered going to Gus's American
Bar. But dismissed the notion out of hand. Gus's would be empty this early. So he went through the house again, the specter of Guzman clinging...a transparent phantom shadowing him from room to room. Finally he settled at the desk in the den and called Sam Wall. Even as his fingers punched out the numbers, he thought stupid, stupid. Read a book. But another voice said: Sam left a message to call. It must be important. So call. After all you still work at the Embassy. The moment Sam answered with a terse, "Who," he said, "It's me." Sam stated. "All hell has broken loose in your absence." "What happened?" he automatically responded "General Rosa." General Rosa, he wearily thought, who else. "What did the bastard do?" "Remember Black?" It took a moment for him to collect his thoughts. Sam didn't prod or interrupt during this time. After a few seconds, he had it. Black headed a British forensic team who had the tactical approval of the Guatemalan president, Serrano Elias, and had begun excavating a mass grave discovered outside the town of Flores. Black hoped to determine whether the Leftist Guatemala National Revolutionary Unit or the Army had committed the massacre. The reason Black's name failed to ring a bell at first was because Black had begun the project a little over two months
ago. At the time he, Richard, had questioned why President Elias had approved of the excavation. To do so was dangerous. Although President Elias was elected by the people, he stayed in office through the good grace of the military. "Black's completed his investigation," he ventured. "Yesterday. The bastard failed to pay us the courtesy of informing us first, and instead announced his findings at a general press conference. The gist: fifteen bodies had lain in the shallow grave, eight years, maybe nine. All Indian. Ten men. Two women. And three infants. All were murdered execution style: a single bullet to the head. The bullets removed from the victims were standard military issue. President Elias issued a statement via the Prensa Libre. He intends to allow Black to continue his investigation. General Rosa, also via the Prensa Libre, issued his own statement. General Rosa was harsh in his denouncement of Black and his findings, indicating that he was not only displeased about Black's allegations, but also displeased over the President's willingness to allow Black to continue his investigation. General Rosa was so ticked off he even went so far as to threaten legal action. He also blamed the U.S. Said Washington was attempting to meddle in Guatemalan affairs." That President Elias and General Rosa had voiced their concerns and anger through the Prensa Libre didn't come as a surprise to Richard. The newspaper leaned toward the right. And
using the rightleaning Prensa Libre as a propaganda tool was standard procedure: both for the military and the president. The intent wasn't so much to inform the people, but to pass veiled threats between the two ruling factions. "Even though Black is British," he sourly replied. "General Rosa doesn't see it that way. Black's group, via diplomatic pressure from the British Embassy, had approval from Washington, and the State Department had threatened to cut off military aid if Black's license to investigate the claims of Military Death squads was revoked." He had forgotten that and said so. "Water under the bridge," he replied, "I do find General Rosa's behavior interesting." He readily agreed "Good. We need to assess damage control. Figure out what General Rosa is up to. State wants an analysis on the situation and wants it yesterday. I've come up with several scenarios. I want to pick your brain before I send out the communiqué." For the next hour he sipped on bourbon while they analyzed the underlying reasons for such a public display by the General. The most obvious scenario was General Rosa planned what Guatemalans called a retirement party for the President, and what the world called a military coup. But this being Central America, the most obvious was oftentimes a ruse. So they explored other
possibilities and out of frustration readily agreed that the whole affair was probably a silly game between the two powers. But moments after they reached this agreement, Sam came up with an undiscussed possibility for the General's behavior. Four years ago an American farmer, George Bernard, was found brutally murdered: shot fifteen times and his body doused with petrol and set aflame and afterwards the charred carcass tossed into a shallow grave. The affair had recently reached an unsatisfactory conclusion. Four lowlevel military officers were convicted and sentenced to twenty years in prison. The consensus at the State Department, where Bernard had many friends, was that the trial was a sham and that the real culprit, General Rosa, had escaped...the logic behind this assumption was not without merit. General Rosa had hated Bernard because Bernard, a devout Christian, was very outspoken over the way the military treated the Indians. So perhaps the General was attempting to shift the spotlight from the mock trial to Black. After lengthy discussion, they decided the latter filled the bill. Sam would write up an analysis and dispatch it tonight. "By the way expect some flak Monday. The Ambassador's pissed." "Did you tell him I was out of the country covering Guzman?" "You know the Ambassador. Cocktail parties and State dinners. He expects the staff to cover anything else. I called a
general press briefing and announced that the Embassy, and the U. S. government had no prior knowledge concerning the atrocities." "Thanks," he replied. "It's nothing." "Just the same." "Sound tired. Guzman get to you?" "I I just need a good night's rest." "Probably." For a brief moment he wondered what Sam meant, perhaps Sam sensed...but let it go. They had a standing habit of meeting on Saturday. So he asked if he was coming in tomorrow. "Yeah, sure, at Gus's. Around noon. I'll fill you in on what's new. Hopefully by tomorrow the mess will cool a bit. Give us some breathing room." Although the conversation had brightened his mood a little, he still felt down, and decided to go to Gus's place. If you were an American living in Antigua, Gus's was the only place to go. Antigua, to be sure, was littered with restaurants, bars and cafes. But the majority of these either catered to the tourists or the Guatemalan residents. Gus tailored his place for the older American and European crowd. From the moment you walked in the atmosphere at Gus's suggested many things. A comfortable coziness first sprang to mind. And unlike the restaurants and cafes that catered to the tourist trade, the coziness wasn't contrived. The
downstairs was small, barely large enough to hold six tables and a bar with eight spokeback stools, and the lighting dim enough to hide the telltale shadows under the eyes...but not so dim as to make squinting a sport. If the closeness downstairs grew too stifling, you could take your drink upstairs to the roof garden and lounge at a table and stare at Aqua, or the sky. But it wasn't the roof garden or the confined coziness downstairs that tuned out the blues. Mildly put, Gus had a fondness for forties big band music, and except for an occasional Andes flute music, the tape deck played nothing but Les Brown and his Band Renown, Xavier Cugat, Artie Shaw, Glen Miller and others of their era. Coziness and Glen Miller suited his blue mood.
Gus's bordered the Central bus terminal. During the day the station served as the transit center for Indians ferrying everything from produce to handcrafts and was very busy. At night the station was, except for the few weatherbeaten wood rotted almost falling down Tiendas where cane cutters gathered shoulder to shoulder on wooden plank benches to drink away the hardships of working in the fields, deserted. Petty thieves prowled the bus station and the surrounding area, and things had a habit of disappearing from cars...radios, tires, the car. So to keep an eye on the Toyota, he had parked directly in front of the bar. A big band, forties, bluesy tune he failed to recognize drifted from the speakers. Jun, the Indian girl who waited tables, passed her dark Indian eyes in dull recognition at him. The act was neither friendly nor hostile. She greeted every gringo the same way. He passed her a likewise nod before passing a cursory glance around. Only Doc Wilson was there. He, slouched on a stool, had the bar to himself. Usually Gus's hopped on Friday evening. But the night was still early, just a little past
eight. Richard meandered past the tables to the bar and sat on the stool next to Doc. Gus, the rope taut muscles on his stocky Greek dockworkers body twining, worked a towel over the bar top. Terasa stood next to him reading out loud from a letter clutched in her hands. The letter was from Terasa's husband back in the States who, in a vain attempt to convince her to return, religiously wrote her once a week. Terasa always shared the letters by reading them out loud. Doc chuckled, a raspy coughing sound, betraying the three packs of cigarettes he used to smoke each day. "Another letter from your husband, huh," Richard commented. Gus absently set the towel aside and deftly selected a bottle of Wild Turkey from a shelf behind him. He poured out three fingers neat into a glass and set the glass in front of him. "Sure is," he grunted. Terasa firmly nodded, and for Richard's benefit again recited out loud the letter's contents. The letter, forgoing the words: Love, I care for you, please come home, etc, instead mentioned at least ten times the purchase of a new pasta maker. To hear her husband tell it, this new pasta maker was the Space Shuttle of Pasta Makers. By the time she finished reading the letter, Doc laughed so uncontrollably he had to go to the bathroom.
"It's your old bladder," Gus yelled out. "It's cheap Guatemalan beer," Doc answered. "Poor man," she said. "Who? Doc or your husband?" Richard inquired. Like a child trying to decide between a candy bar or rock candy, Terasa trapped her tongue between her teeth and thought about it for a second. She concentrated so that Richard could almost see the wheels in her head working over the question and couldn't help but smile. She had arrived in Antigua about a year ago, running, as she put it, from the pasta maker. The pasta maker spent his days prosecuting white collar criminals for the United States Attorney General's office. He made pasta every night for dinner and talked about teaching history. Just had to wait a few more years. Save a few more dollars. Except it was always next year, next year. When she had first told the story, she ended it with, "Sometimes next year never arrives. So I escaped down here to sort my thoughts out." Shortly after arriving, she took up with Gus. Richard was surprised at first. Gus had a weakness for young pretty women who could add two and two while keeping their mouths shut. She wasn't so young, and a little heavy in the wrong places, and a little slow when it came to adding two and two, and rarely kept her mouth shut. But she had a delightful innocence about her. So much so that a man naturally gravitated to her. And when she had first
arrived plenty had. But she had chosen Gus. And surprisingly they worked well together. Terasa, slow and easy going, Gus, raging at every little thing. "Both. All of us," she replied. Unsure if her response was a question or an observation, Richard considered inquiring when Doc returned and roosted on the same stool he recently had vacated. Gus leaned his elbows on the bar and asked about the events unfolding in Peru. Doc's ears perked up at the mention of Peru, as did Terasa's. Their concern and interest were understandable considering Guatemala's history and its own struggle with the Leftist Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unit. Leaving out the incident at the airport, Richard explained what a circus Lima had been. Guzman. The lion's cage. The people heaving rotten eggs and fruit. They each sympathetically nodded, saying they had watched it on television. Terasa asked the one question on all their minds, "What about here? Is Guatemala safe?" Richard assured her, them, as much. Since he worked at the Embassy, they accepted such assurances without
question...honesty, well they could do without that. Terasa excused herself and went to the bathroom. Doc and Gus immediately began discussing whether Guzman was a goat or a hero. Doc favored the latter, Gus the former. Within minutes the conversation grew heated. Richard sipped his drink, not feeling a
need to offer an opinion either way. Little by little people drifted in until all the tables were filled. Richard knew a few of the people and greetings were exchanged; a wave, a hi. Jun waited on the customers at the tables. But like all Indians, she moved at her own pace...slow. Her slowness, as always, exasperated Gus, and he angrily waved at Terasa to go and help her out. Used to his moods, she shrugged and did as instructed. "If I live to be a hundred, I'll never understand the Indians," Gus remarked. "A customer can sit there for an hour before Jun will wait on him. I can yell and scream. Does no good...except to make me feel like an asshole. Jesus, Doc, you practically live like an Indian. Explain this to me? Can you do this? Huh?" Although Gus always complained about Jun, the complaint about the Indians wasn't a new one in Antigua. In the restaurants and cafes frequented by foreigners or Spaniards the complaint was the same...slow service. Apathy, some called it. Revenge, others said. Nor was Gus's question new. He had asked Doc to explain a thousand times and Doc always answered by retelling the same worn parable. Richard, relaxed internally for the first time all day, sat back and listened, almost reciting by heart the interchange between them. "There is this Indian woman who sells oranges. A shriveled
up ancient woman the color of coffee. As the morning dew evapo rates on the leaves and grass she packs eight dozen oranges in a large piece of canvas. She hauls them down from the mountain and sits on a corner, a different corner each day, spreads open a cloth woven in the colors of her village and neatly forms a pyramid of oranges on it. She waits for people to come and buy an orange or two. Were you to arrive at eighty thirty and want to purchase the entire pyramid, she wouldn't sell them to you. She would explain that if she did, then what would she do...nothing for the rest of the day." As usual, the story infuriated Gus, and he bellowed, "Go back up to the mountain and pick another dozen and come back and sell them." With this Gus stormed away. "Were I to cut you open," Doc yelled back, "I would find a man leading a life of quiet desperation." Doc's last remark brought a smile to Richard's face, as it usually did. Doc liked to analyze people, and always used the metaphor: were I to cut you open. The doctor in him, Richard imagined. As Richard motioned Terasa for a refill, John and Terry took up residence at the bar. John had heard Doc, and yelled at Gus, "That's okay, Gus. Doc would find a pirate in me. Told me so yesterday."
"With the Jolly Roger flapping in the breeze and you on the stern yelling: onward slaves," Doc joked. Doc offered up a raspy chuckle at his own joke. John waved him off with a hand. Terry leaned in Richard's direction and inquired about Peru. Her concern was understandable. Terry and John had moved to Guatemala from the States in 1980 and had opened a bar in Antigua. But the times weren't right for a foreigner to open a bar or any business. The civil war raged, and everyday a passing car tossed a bomb out the window into a cafe, bar, or restaurant. John's bar suffered such a fate. After John's bar got blown to smithereens, they sought refuge in Honduras. They had returned a couple of years ago. They had had enough of the bar business, and started a weekly newsletter geared toward tourists...the best hotels, where to find a decent meal, etcetera. But they were weary. In Central America newspapers were, depending on the whim of the government, always subject to closure or bombs. Even little newsletters. So Richard offered the same false reassurance and had no sooner finished when Foster, a refugee from the sixties, took a stool at the bar. He operated the 'Cafe Salud, y Amor,' a vegetarian restaurant. He also exported handwoven Indian goods. He resembled his beliefs: a guru with a constant twinkle in his eyes. Same question from Foster. The same false reassurances.
At first, for Richard, explaining the events in Peru had helped serve as a catharsis. A way to stand on the sidelines and examine the events and his feelings. But he had grown tired of playing the 'soothe our fears guy' and of examining his feelings and was relieved when the conversation abruptly shifted toward television...specifically the Guatemalan cable company and pay perview movies. For years Guatemalan Cable had pirated the satellite signals from H.B.O and Showtime and in turn charged its subscribers a monthly fee to view the movies. But a few days earlier Showtime and H.B.O. had discovered a so far foolproof method of scrambling their signals. The result: no more English language movies. Although Terry had brought the subject up, it was Foster who carried the ball. The Guru twinkle remained in his eyes, but he was galled at this injustice and ranted and raved. The source of his ire was rooted in the fact that he operated a makeshift movie theater. He had always had this dream, started way back when he was a child and first saw the M.G.M. lion, to have his own theater. He had nursed the dream for years, and had hit upon the solution one night a few months back while passing a joint to his wife. At the time they were lounging on the bed, along with their three Irish Setters, watching Godzilla on the television. Foster leaped up off the bed at the exact instant that Godzilla stomped flat an old Japanese man. He screamed: THAT'S IT! To
refer to Foster as sedate would be an understatement, and his wife, accustomed to his mellow moods, swallowed the joint. The Irish Setters leapt off the bed like smoke and crawled under it. Thus six red eyes shone out from under the bed and his wife coughed and choked while he repeated: THAT'S IT. The next day he rented a store front, the following day he installed fifty folding chairs and a popcorn popper. The next week a huge crate arrived from Miami containing a projection television and a V.C.R. He ran movies six times a day and charged two dollars per show. The movies he ran were pirated from the movies Guatemalan Cable pirated from H.B.O and Showtime. "You must've taped quite an inventory of titles by now," Terry remarked, trying to soothe his feelings. "Hundreds," Foster responded, heavily highlighting the word, 'hundreds.' "But eventually I will wind up showing the same movies over and over again. Just not right." "What's," Terasa asked, "not right? Guatemalan Cable stealing the signal or Guatemalan Cable unable to unscramble the signal?" As is apt to happen when people are a little oiled, not so much as they slurred their words, but just enough to simmer convictions, a heated discussion ensued on the merits of Terasa's question. The discussion really didn't interest Richard and he
swiveled on the stool and stared outside. Rain and darkness splashed the street outside. He saw the Toyota, saw the mirrors and tires were still attached. Right then for no reason at all, he tried to think about Guzman. To summon up how he had felt. But he sat among friends, and the memory seemed insignificant, as if it had never happened. Maybe talking about the events had helped after all, he mused inwardly. A few minutes later and still staring peacefully outside, Doc tapped him on the shoulder. "Give me a ride home?" Doc had a decrepit Ford Galaxy. Richard asked where it was at. "Jose's shop. Brakes. He's had the car for three days." "Slow workers." "Just their way," Doc replied. "Sure," Richard responded, "And sure. I'm ready to leave." After a flurry of goodbyes, they were on their way.
They only got as far as the sidewalk. The rain came down hard and mean and they sought shelter under the roof overhang to wait for it to lessen before making a dash for the car. Dozens of parked buses littered the bus terminal. Most were painted school bus yellow, but a few were painted day glow red, green and orange. Beyond the terminal lay an open field where the homeless had set up tarp sleeping quarters for the night. Despite the rain, cook fires, fueled by red hot coals, glowed in the open field. Much shouting and hollering came from the Tiendas, including strains of American songs, of which few if any of the merrymakers knew the words. A few stray dogs, skeleton thin, lounged just outside the Tiendas. Their heads hung beaten down low, they searched for a scrape of food. Somewhere in their dog brain the overriding thought was: just a crumb. Please. Just a crumb. For a few seconds, Richard and Doc stared hopefully at the sky. Richard was about to say the hell with it when Lt. Oscar walked up, an umbrella growing out of one hand. The Lt, the
highest ranking police officer in Antigua, was a short man, barely five foot two. He had a long comical upturned mustache, of the kind often portrayed in Mexican comic books. The Lt. had been alone as he approached them from the dark confines of the bus terminal and this surprised Richard. It was dangerous to venture behind the buses to the dark endless void beyond...even for the police. But a moment later he saw three other officers; each carried carbines. So the Lt was looking for somebody. Richard ventured as much. "Such a night to be out," The Lt. said in response. With his free hand, he fished out a package of Payasos from his breast pocket, pulled out a cigarette and cupping a match lit it. The brand was a local Guatemalan brand and on the package stood an armsoutin greeting laughing clown in a green polka dotted clown suit. "The rain," the Lt continued, "Fools. They be better off in jail." "So you are looking for somebody." Doc stated. "I am always looking for somebody. It is a policeman's nature." One of his men motioned to him. He sighed and tossed the cigarette in the water streaming in the gutter. "I stop by tomorrow, Doc. Chess. I beat you this time." "Never!" Doc retorted, "The Latin mind...too romantic for chess."
A chuckle from Lt. Oscar, and he was gone, swallowed up by the darkness hiding out in the bus terminal. Several voices yelled, "Stop!" And a shot rang out. "The hell with the rain," Richard said, "Let's go." "Aren’t you curious, Richard?" Doc asked. "It's not my job to be curious," he replied and dashed for the car. Despite Richard's comment, Doc hesitated, peering toward the shadows playing in and around the parked buses. At last he also ran for the car. As Richard pulled away he saw Lt. Oscar emerge from the shadows. With him were his men. They held a third man by the elbows. And it wasn't until the Toyota turned up Calle Toto that Doc too turned away.
Usually chatty, Doc was quiet during the ride. He lived about ten minutes outside of town on the grounds of an old rundown Hacienda owned by an Indian family who farmed the land...growing bananas and oranges. Doc lived there free of charge in exchange for treating their various cuts and bruises. By the time they arrived the rain had stopped. Richard parked the car along the side of the road. A huge rusted iron gate blocked the entrance to the Hacienda. The moment Doc swung it open, Poco, a Pekinese owned by the family who farmed the land, greeted them by licking at their shoes...first Doc's then Richard's. Doc stooped to pet Poco on the head, then straightened and started walking. The dog ran along side, yapping and jumping. Although they skirted the dirt path keeping close to the banana trees and orange trees leading to his house to avoid the mud, mud quickly caked their shoes. Richard cursed and Doc chuckled. "Why don't you move?" he complained. But they had reached Doc's hut and his complaint fell on deaf ears. That, as Gus had put it, Doc lived like an Indian was
an understatement. The hut, about ten by fourteen feet in size, had a tin roof. Despite the smallness of the space, Doc had managed to stuff years of living...boxes and papers and clothes and Indian artifacts filled almost every inch of the space. The only exception was a self constructed crisscross pathway leading from the front door to the bed to his desk. The desk wasn't a real desk, but a makeshift thing constructed from two waist high filing cabinets and a large sheet of plywood. Doc loved children and years ago had started a oneman charity to educate, feed, clothe and medically treat the indigenous Guatemalan children. Consequently he was a consummate letter writer. An old Underwood typewriter set atop the plywood. Stacks of letters were neatly arranged next to the typewriter. The stacks were divided into outgoing and incoming. The incoming letters contained a promise to sponsor an Indian child for a year or two. The outgoing letters were either a thanks for the sponsorship or a plea to recommend to a friend or relative the sponsoring of a child. Why Doc chose to live like this befuddled Richard. Doc could certainly afford better. The first time Richard had visited Doc he assumed Doc chose to live like an Indian because most of his clients were Indian and Doc wanted them to feel at home. But the Indians never came to his house. Instead Doc traveled to the mountain villages. Once Richard had briefly considering asking him why he chose
to live like an Indian, but decided against it. Where he lived was his business. Doc only had one chair, an ancient desk chair of the kind built seventy years ago for the large frames of the robber barons of old: three inch oak all around, and a seat large enough to hold two people of normal stature. After pouring a few ounces of rum in two glasses and handing Richard one, he took the chair. As usual the chair swallowed him up so only his face showed. Richard sat on the edge of the bed. A lamp atop the plywood afforded the only light in the room. The dim light caused trace shadows to play off Doc's face, and only his eyes, as if masked, shone out. The eyes were old and the years of living behind them had bleached the whites of the eyes to a pale yellow. But behind those yellow eyes lay a mind as sharp as a tack. Doc's age was a perennial question bandied about at Gus's. And the regulars at the bar didn't have so much as a clue as to how old Doc was. Oh, they knew he practiced the fine art of healing people...Indians mostly. But beyond this they weren't even sure about his age. Gus guessed him to be about seventy five. Foster said, 'Eighty easy,' always adding, "Doc's been around forever." Terasa just enjoyed listening to him and never offered an opinion either way. The subject didn't interest John and Terry. Doc, laughing whenever the subject was broached, never offered so much as a hint. But if Doc's age remained a mystery at
Gus's, there was one general consensus in the bar concerning him: that Doc had surely been a dashing, handsome man in his youth. They all based this observation on his bushy white eyebrows, and thick unkept snow white hair. But the rest of him hadn't fared so well. The years had taken their toll on him...stripping away everything but skin and bones and leaving in its wake a bent over reed of a man; a thin reed whose clothes, always a brown suit, hung loosely around him. However old he was, Richard thought right then, the man behind those eyes had witnessed a great deal of living and dying. Of this he was sure. "How goes the pledges?" he asked, settling against the wall. "Slow time of year," he replied, "Christmas is better. People in the States feel more giving around the holidays." "People everywhere." Doc's bony fingers toyed with a stack of letters. "My children. Hunger knows no season. Birth, this bloody entry." "Doc," he half pleaded, "Please. No poetic nonsense tonight." "Yes Richard. Not tonight. You and Sam. Both alike. No time for such nonsense. Sam, our local C.I.A. operative. You, our local...What?" "Sam's the Embassy information officer," he reiterated, repeating a well worn lie.
"Richard, you looked tired tonight," Doc commented. "Is toiling for the jackal finally wearing on you?" He sighed. Doc was drunk. There was no getting away from it. Not after the incident at the bus terminal. "No. The Guzman trial." "Yes. Cage the fierce beast for all to feast upon." Next Doc would ramble on about birth. Babies. He wasn't in the mood. He finished the drink and stood. "I got to go. Long day Doc." "Yes Richard, seeing a man paraded around in a cage makes for a long day. Go. Go home. I apologize for being such a bad host." Fifteen minutes later Richard lay in bed. Sleep eluded him. After an hour of tossing and turning he went to the bathroom and took the other half of the ten milligram Valium and ground it under his molars...suffered the momentary bitterness...and returned to bed and within ten minutes sleep's breast fed him.
Saturday and Sunday were the two days Richard had the house to himself. Saturday was market day and Celia took the day off from the household chores to do the grocery shopping for both her households; his and her family's. She was very religious and on Sunday she attended mass. Consequently he had slept a good eight hours uninterrupted by pots or pans banging...Celia used the pots as an alarm clock, or so he believed...and the rest had mended the fractured spirit within him. As he lay staring at the ceiling and listening to the sounds outside, he took stock of how he felt. After several minutes he concluded that yesterday's indecision and fear were gone. The calm decisive man he had always relied upon was back. He could now look back and logically examine yesterday's events. Guzman. His feelings of disgust. Were the overwhelming emotions he felt real? No doubt about that. But maybe they were due to the strain of flying to Lima. Seeing Guzman treated like a dog. Hell, watching that circus would put a kink in anybody's day. But if they were real, then it was time to call it quits. And waiting for State to pension him out was
unacceptable. He would monitor his performance over the next several weeks. If he found it lacking in any manner whatsoever, he would submit his resignation. Here, his spirits sank. He liked the job. And believed he did it well. But he accepted the decision. Decisive men were like this. Or so he attempted to convince himself. After an invigorating shower, he went though the usual 'keep away the kidney stones' routine in the kitchen. He cut five oranges in half, placed an eight ounce glass under the juicer and one by one squeezed the juice from the orange halves into the glass. As he swallowed down the orange juice, he imagined the juice doing its assigned work. He had a grave fear of kidney stones. And believed that drinking eight ounces of fresh squeezed orange juice each day retarded the growth of kidney stones. He had learned this fact from an article in the New York Times. The article detailed the findings of a research project undertaken by the University of Texas Medical school in Austin concerning the retardation of kidney stones. The study established that a daily intake of fresh orange juice retarded the growth of kidney stones. At the time he had read the article, he had had two recent occurrences of kidney stones. The pain, excruciating, almost drove him mad. He had yet to suffer a recurrence of kidney stones since incorporating orange juice into his morning diet. He next hardboiled three eggs and washed them down with a
cup of very strong black coffee. The food filled a void in his stomach and, nourished both in mind and body, washed the dishes and headed out to meet Sam at Gus's. Finding a parking place within the vicinity of the bus station on Saturday was all but impossible. Spanish cities and towns were designed around a Central Plaza, and Antigua was no exception. The Central Plaza formed a square. Businesses thrived here: mostly banks and cafes. A park rested in the middle of the square. During the week the Parque Central Plaza and the park were fairly quiet. A nice place to sit and watch the world go by. Or get a shoe shine. Or buy cloth from the occasional Indian peddler. But on Saturday and Sunday the Plaza and park took on a festive carnival atmosphere. Pullman tour buses unloaded hundreds of tourists who in turn mobbed the area in search of a bargain. Indians from the mountain highlands flocked to the Plaza and the park. They used the Plaza and the park as an openair market and sold handcrafts...brightly colored cloths, dolls, pottery...to the tourists. The Indians, when not peddling their wares, cooked on makeshift coal stoves a host of maze and bean dishes to sell to each other. The Plaza sidewalks, narrow and barely wide enough to hold two people walking abreast, were no match for the throngs of people. So as usual the streets on the east and west side of the Plaza were closed to traffic to allow for the crush of people.
He parked the Toyota in front of the Augustan Spanish Academy on 3a Avenida Sur, two blocks away from the Parque Central Plaza. He had a half hour to spare before meeting Sam, and after making sure the doors were locked, headed to the park to sit on a bench and listen to whatever traveling minstrels were in town. He approached the Plaza from the old Palacio de los Capitanes...centuries ago the seat of government in Guatemala but now housing the armory and the police station. From there he cut across the street to the park itself. The Park was a gardener's nightmare. Dozen of trees, vines weaving over the cement pathways and lush bushes, fiery and wild, created a jungle atmosphere; of course the most dangerous creature prowling about were the rats and they only showed themselves at night. Growing out of this lush garden and in the center of the park was a stone fountain. The fountain cascaded in circles, each one larger than the last until at the bottom lay a pool of water. At the top of the fountain, water spouted from the breasts of four naked bronze women. The women, as they had for centuries, abundantly fed the cascading circles. He searched for a vacant seat on a bench near the fountain when he spotted Ruth Lehto sitting on a bench. Smoke drifted from a cigarette in her hand. An Indian child sat with her. As soon as he approached, the child scampered off the bench and pointed for him to sit. From beneath the bench the child hefted a wicker
basket filled with handcrafts and held the wicker basket out so he could see the wares inside. "Special price just for you." The pitch, 'Special price,' was a common refrain heard all day around the sidewalks bordering the Plaza and in the park. Ruth laughed. The child's face, anticipating a sale, dropped. "Maybe next time," he said to cheer the child up. Her face immediately brightened. "Go play," Ruth fondly instructed. The child, after first tucking the basket under the bench for safe keeping, giddily ran away. Ruth took a long pull off the cigarette in her hand, blew the smoke out and said right off, "You are just the man I want to see." She wanted a favor and he couldn't help but chuckle. She was in her late seventies and after spending forty years working for Catholic Charities in St Louis had retired in Guatemala to work for...Catholic Charities. She believed that since he worked for the Embassy, his position afforded privileges, and was always asking for a favor...and always for a young Indian boy or girl. Usually it was to sponsor a particularly gifted child for enrollment in the American School which reserved six slots for indigenous youths. Although assisting citizens was, without proper authozation, against Embassy policy, he helped whenever there was an opening...but, feeling ill at ease, always swore her
to secrecy beforehand. He knew other Embassy personnel traded favors in exchange for a better apartment or preferential treatment at a restaurant in Guatemala city, or a few dollars, or whatever the person had to offer. But except for Ruth, he had never done so. So to him it wasn't so strange that he felt ill at ease in assisting Ruth. He was breaking an Embassy rule. The guilt went along with helping. He always supposed this was the price he paid, and believed he assisted her because she reminded him of his longdeparted grandmother; hair gray, yes, but a lively, sincere twinkle in her eyes. The young Richard Mason could never refuse his grandmother, and now at fiftysix the older Richard Mason found it difficult to refuse Ruth. He wondered if the American Ambassador would understand. "I know there is a slot open," she stated. "One," he responded. "I only require one," she pointed out. "Boy or girl?" "A boy." "So far so good. The slot calls for a boy," he replied, then joked, "Equal opportunity and all." She absently nodded and began explaining about the boy. Her voice was earnest, and she only paused to pull hard on the cigarette. "The boy is barely fourteen. Just a child, really. Far too young to be conscripted in the Army...
On she spoke. He listened while at the same time soaking in the lazy afternoon going on around them. By the fountain an Indian trio played Andean music while an American girl passed around a basket for donations to a group of tourists gathered there. Along the sidewalks joining the Palacio de los Capitanes a group of boys played a game of racing their bicycles at a screaming speed upon unsuspecting tourists. Almost always the tourists would jump in wideeyed fright, see it was just a game and laugh and, a little pale in he face, wander away. When he had first arrived in Antigua, he had been the recipient of the game. He had witnessed it often since then. "Are you listening to me?" She was something, he thought, and probably a hellraiser in her youth. But in this case help was out of the question. The Guatemalan Army had a habit of taking young boys and men off the streets and forcing them to serve three years of military service. According to her the Army had snatched the boy. End of story. There wasn't anything he could do. She knew this. "Heard every word." "Please. Do this and I will refrain from asking for a favor for at least a month." "Ruth," he declared, "You know I can't interfere in the internal politics here. It's against Embassy policy." "Oh pooh," she snorted. Her upper lip had curled up much
like a rabbit nibbling on a carrot and he laughed out loud. "Go ahead and laugh," she retorted. "But helping the boy will soothe your troubled soul." Today his soul wasn't troubled, yesterday yes, he started to reply, but right at the moment he ceased paying any real attention to her because directly across the way from where they sat General Rosa strolled along the sidewalk joining the Palacio De Los Capitanes. His arms swung at his side, as if he hadn't a care in the world, and a smile rested on his otherwise chiseled hard stone features. He wore a white teeshirt and brown trousers. Richard was very surprised to see him out of uniform, and briefly wondered what General Rosa was doing in Antigua and why he was out of uniform. But General Rosa had a girlfriend, Señorita Basoane, a beautiful Spaniard who operated a horse breeding farm a few miles outside of Antigua. He, Richard, had attended several cocktail parties at her house and found her a delightful, charming woman. He also questioned what she saw in General Rosa, and had once, in a moment of drunkenness, done so to her face. General Rosa was standing next to her and laughed...a harsh thin crackle. She politely declined an answer, instead steering the conversation toward horse breeding. But the laugh was answer enough. She had position, yes, but true power rested in General Rosa's harsh thin crackle and she knew it and
knew Richard knew it and was graceful enough to humor him. Concluding that General Rosa had spent the night with Señorita Basoane, and uninterested in his sex life, Richard began the slow swing back to Ruth who was saying something, when out of the corner of his eye he saw a boy race toward General Rosa on a bicycle. The boy probably thought General Rosa was a tourist, he thought, and had time to think that the boy was in for a hell of a tongue lashing. That was all he had time for. A loud explosion erupted and the bicycle went skidding one way while the boy, arms flaring to his chest, fell stone to the ground at General Rosa's feet. "Jesus," he heard Ruth mutter while quickly making the sign of the cross,"Jesus Christ have mercy." Automatically she started to rise. He maintained a forceful hand on her shoulder, pressing her down upon the bench. "Don't be a fool," he murmured. "Let go of me!" "No." "Let go of me!" "No!" He repeated, "You are a U.S. citizen. A guest of a foreign country. Now act like one." He had spoken rather harshly and placed his other hand on her shoulder, gently, softly, as a friend might. "Medical help will arrive shortly. So will a priest. There is nothing either one of us can do. Just, Ruth, let
it go. Please." As he surveyed the Plaza, he saw that things were very much the same as before General Rosa had gunned down the boy. The band played...the music a sad pipe and flute melody. Obviously the musicians had failed to hear the gunshot above the music and had also failed to see the event because of the crowd of tourists gathered in a circle around them. A few tourists who were caught strolling on the sidewalk joining the Palacio De Los Capitanes stood statue stunned. From the armory men wearing pea green army fatigues poured out at a full run. Just outside the gate, sat an idling half truck: bolted to the flatbed was a thirty caliber machine gun. A few Indians, sensing something was amiss, moved in the same direction as the soldiers. But the soldiers were well trained and had formed a protective shield around General Rosa. The half truck had moved out into the center of the street. A soldier kneeled on the flatbed, his hands atop the thirty caliber machine gun. Soon well over a hundred Indians, mostly women dressed in the ceremonial colors of their respective villages, faced the soldiers and the half truck. The faces on the Indians wore a sense of confusion, unsure of what had happened. But history and experience told them something was amiss, and usually this amiss involved them. Richard uttered the F word. He should have noticed the half truck and machine gun before...General Rosa never went anywhere
without heavy protection...and mentally kicked himself. "We must do something," Ruth whispered, "SOMETHING!" A visible strain was evident in her voice. "Okay," he replied, and carefully chose his next words. "Sam should be at Gus's. I want you to go to the Indians. But stay on the periphery of the crowd. Send one of the boys to fetch Sam. Choose the women you know are leaders of their villages and have them quietly disburse their neighbors. Now promise me. This is all you will do. You do this and I will see about the boy. See how he is. Promise!" "Yes," she weakly responded. Although disgust covered her, he saw in her eyes she would do as asked. She stood and crushed the cigarette under her left shoe and began moving toward the crowd. But she moved slow and painfully, her elderly limbs sick with arthritis. The seconds moved at half speed. He cursed her age. Finally she reached the periphery of the crowd, and bent over to whisper in an Indian boy's ear. The boy, about ten or eleven, nodded and on a dead run headed toward the bus station. It was Richard's turn. He had also promised. A part of him wanted to disregard the promise. This wasn't his problem. He had no business becoming involved. Another part longed for a drink. He disregarded all his thoughts and stood all at once, as if to do otherwise impossible, and headed toward the nearest break in
the crowd of Indians. Indians are usually polite people and as soon as they saw a gringo, parted to let him pass. He supposed a few of them also figured he knew what the hell was going on and would do something to at least satisfy their curiosity. Fools, he thought. They placed their trust simply because he was a gringo. Jesus what idiots. The second he reached the front row of soldiers he removed the Embassy identification card from his pocket. The soldier he approached was young, no more then fourteen or fifteen. The boy, holding a carbine at arms length with the butt end pressed against his left knee, vainly attempted to rally his instilled soldier belief in machismo and passed over a threatening stare and muttered something harsh in Spanish. "I want to see General Rosa," Richard ordered in Spanish and with authority. The use of Spanish and General Rosa's name surprised the boy and for a second his mock machismo fled leaving behind the scared face of an Indian youth who not too long ago played the same scarethetourists game. But a sharp order from behind him jerked him back to starched attention and he glared, or tried. But he couldn't quite pull it off; the frightened face of a boy shone fourth. "Move along," the young soldier beseeched. The man who had issued the order wore the elite blue uniform of General Rosa's personal guard and special forces. And unlike
the boy who was of Indian blood, this was a man of about thirty and of obvious Spanish descent: tall, razor thin mustache, dark proud nononsense eyes. Upon his head lay a smartly placed blue beret. A machine gun was slung loosely in his right hand. He studied Richard, his dark intense eyes cold and hard. Move along, move along, Richard thought. But as much as he wanted to, he was stuck. He could attempt to bluff by spilling out a meaningless long sentence echoing his importance and about how General Rosa would be displeased if he wasn't allowed to pass. But the soldier appeared the type to sneer at such an obvious bluff. So he opted for the more abrupt route, hoping to confuse him long enough for either Sam to arrive or for General Rosa to notice him. Although General Rosa disliked him, the General was a rooster, and loved to strut his importance. To do so the General needed an audience. Not just his soldiers but a real audience. He hoped he qualified. "General Rosa!" he shouted as loudly as he could in the hope the General would hear above the noise. He shouted again, this time waving the Embassy identification card high above his head. "U.S. Embassy! General!" His ploy momentarily succeeded for both the young Indian soldier and the older experienced soldier were confused as to what to do. General Rosa pushed between them. The moment he saw Richard a soft mean smile crossed his face.
"What do you want?" he demanded, speaking in English. Although General Rosa carried a hell of an ego, he was also a cautious man. And had used English because his men only spoke Spanish. If he failed to come out on top with this gringo he would save face. Richard had spent hours studying General Rosa's folder at the Embassy, and knew why General Rosa had used English. He briefly considered answering him in Spanish, but decided against doing so. As much as he detested the man...embarrassing him was stupid. Especially in front of his men. "I want to see the boy." "Why? He no concern of you." "General Rosa," he replied, "I only want to see the boy. What's it matter?" General Rosa had indeed, as Richard had guessed, spent the evening at Señorita Basoane's ranch. The memory of her fragrance lingered, leaving him in a good mood...but this foolish Indian boy had gone and ruined the mood. Stupid Indians. Now this stupid American wanted to play the important man. Foolish Gringo. He had let the insult at the party pass. But now. Now was the time to teach the man a lesson. Smiling he withdrew his side arm from the holster and placed the cold steel of the barrel against Richard's forehead. His men laughed. He smiled and ran the gun barrel down the right side of Richard's face until it touched his
lips...here the gun lingered. The metal was cold and sent shivers down Richard's spine and his heart pounded hard in his chest. But the sad flutes coming from the plaza, not the gun, filled his senses. He saw, tasted the music. And heard a funeral dirge. Holding his breath, he searched out of the corner of his eyes for assistance. But he saw that Ruth had done her work well. Most of the Indians had drifted away. The stunned tourists had also hurried off. It was now only him and General Rosa and of course the boy. But he lay somewhere out of sight...the sidewalk he lay on a threedeep depth of soldiers. And in all likelihood the boy was dead. "So you want to see the boy, huh," General Rosa said, only this time he spoke in Spanish and his men laughed harder. "Holster the gun, General," Richard heard Sam order. Sam's voice served to quiet the desperation growing inside Richard. But still the gun restricted movement, keeping him from actually seeing Sam...which in itself would have offered a tremendous comfort. Then he saw Sam's tall, just over six two, lean frame side up next to General Rosa. Out of the corner of his eye he also saw Doc Wilson. But all he could see was his face, the thin red lips wore an amusing smile, as if saying: You Richard, of all people in this predicament. He dearly wanted to say: Fuck you Doc! Just fuck you! But General Rosa had yet to remove the gun.
"I said holster the gun," Sam repeated, "And if I have to say it again I will speak in Spanish and your men will think you are a woman if you don't shoot me and you won't you know, shoot me. I know this. You do also. So holster the goddamn gun!" General Rosa said, "But I can shoot him. What is he but a drone. You, you are C.I.A. So I shoot him." "I am not C.I.A. The C.I.A. isn't allowed by Guatemalan charter to operate in Guatemala," Sam pointed out, "I am the Embassy information officer. Now holster the mother fucking gun! I won't ask this nice again." "Of course not," Lt. Oscar softly entered. Richard didn't have so much as a clue as to where Lt. Oscar had come from but the sound of his voice, soft as it was, visibly startled him and he jumped. Just a little start, but enough. Just enough so General Rosa pressed the gun harder against his lips, reinforcing his authority...at least in Richard's mind. "This is a military matter," General Rosa commanded, "Not the police." "Yes," Oscar replied, his voice still soft, "But I have to file an official report." "The boy attempted to shoot me. I killed him. My men have the gun the boy carried. This is all the report you need." "Unless there are witnesses to say otherwise," Oscar ventured.
"There are none." Lt. Oscar moved a few inches so Richard could see him. He took a pack of Payasos from his shirt pocket and slowly removed a cigarette. He held the pack so the silly clown faced Richard. Both the clown and the Lt. wore a bemused smile. Richard's thoughts raced. Slow down, he cautioned. Just take it easy. The General is not going to shoot you. Why? Because he would have done so by now. So the main question is?: Tell Oscar that the General killed the boy, or remain silent. Had the General seen him watching him stroll along the sidewalk just before shooting the boy? No. Too many people and trees. Lots of trees. But what did it matter. To him? To General Rosa? Besides this wasn't the time to even consider such a possibility. There was a gun pressed against his mouth. But his lips would be just as sealed even if the gun wasn't pressed against them. He justified this thought by telling himself it was not his place to accuse General Rosa of murder. So he just stared back blankly at Oscar and the silly clown. "It is enough, yes," Oscar replied, a detected note of relief in his voice. "Now why don't you put the gun away and let us take charge. An important man such as you, General, has important matters to attend to." General Rosa stored the gun in the holster: a swaggering downward motion of his left hand, followed by a cocksure
placement of the gun into the holster harness. So swiftly had General Rosa removed the gun that Richard, who had up until then held himself rigid, almost fell over. As he steadied himself, he inhaled, actually tasting the bitter sweet air. The fear of death gone, suddenly he was angry. At Ruth. It was because of her he had become involved in this foolery. At Doc. Just out of general principles. And at Sam. But most of all he was angry because he was shaking all over. And oh how he must look the fool right now. And he wanted to tell General Rosa off. Wanted to punch him in the chops. If he could do either then the shaking would cease. But what he wanted most of all was a drink. The fun, or ruckus, such as both were, had ended and as General Rosa climbed without further word into the cab of the half truck, the contingent of his elite guard took up positions on the flatbed. The regular soldiers drifted away to take up positions at the armory. And it was only after most of them had dispersed that the boy came into view. Forgotten, now remembered, he lay an unmoving heap...a jagged hole drilled through his chest. A pool of blood had collected on the sidewalk. Lt. Oscar ordered several of his men to take up position around the boy. Doc knelt by the boy and checked his pulse, shook his head and stood. The soldiers gone, the few remaining Indians came forward. The police let an older Indian woman pass. The woman touched
Richard's hand as she passed. Just a touch. Perhaps the touch was a thank you for intervening; he didn't know. But if so, he felt guilty. He had done nothing to deserve her thanks. The Indian woman, black hair tied back in a bun, knelt by the boy. Her bronze face emotionless, she touched the boy's forehead. The act, tender in nature, was also an act of a mother. Ruth stood at the woman's side...and momentarily glanced at Richard; her eye's held a thank you. But also something else: blame. He gave her a fast hard curl of his lips. "No," she said, shaking her head, "I wasn't blaming you. You should know me better. But I kept my promise." "Sorry," he replied, nervously, because they felt dirty, rubbing his hands together, "I'm angry." She looked at his hands. "At me?" He let his hands fall by his side. "Yes. No, no, no, no," he murmured, "At myself. Just myself." "This is the boy's mother." "Yes," he replied for lack of anything else. "A mother's life is a hard lot," she murmured, "But God shall reward their suffering in Heaven." "And hallowed be thy name," he cynically added, again rubbing his hands together. She stared at them, but he didn't care. "You see now. You see what comes of trying to interfere.
The army is the power here. Not God." "Yes," Ruth replied and knelt next to the woman. The woman raised her head and a low continuous murmur came from her barely parted sun cracked and peeled lips. The sound low, almost hush, continued in a rattle and hum, never growing in intensity nor subsiding. At first Richard thought she murmured out of grief. But after a moment he realized she was speaking in an Indian dialect. He directed his gaze to follow hers; Aqua, her peak sheathed in a thin sheer almost transparent mist. She was praying to Aqua. Aqua's gods would take her son. Keep him until her time came to join him. Together the mist would carry them to heaven. It was an old Indian belief. But he didn't believe in old Indian customs, nor God, and turned to leave. A few police impeded his departure and he, mindless of Sam and Doc, angrily pushed past them. At first he wasn't sure of where he headed. He wasn't in the mood for company and briefly considered going home, locking the door and getting stone drunk. But he desperately needed a drink and needed one bad. His hands shook and a baseball size knot of fear pained his stomach. Gus's was a few blocks away whereas his car lay three blocks away and his house a good mile. So he headed to Gus's.
As if alive instead of just concrete, the bus terminal throbbed in a chaos of activity. Dirtyfaced men pulled creaking wooden carts along the street, bus drivers attempting to wedge one more passenger aboard a departing chicken bus yelled, "GUATE! GUATE!" Beggars stacked up along the boardwalk’s wall leading to Gus's. Their silent, bandaged hands urging for a Centavos or two. One of the bandaged hands managed to snag Richard's pants cuff. Richard, on most days, managed to walk a wide berth around the beggars, but such was his anger he failed to notice the slight yank or the hand slipping away. He stormed into Gus's, right past John and Terry and Foster who sat at a table littered with an advertising layout and went straight to the bathroom and scrubbed his hands. But they still felt dirty, and he scrubbed them a second time. Then scrubbed them dry on his pants. When he came out of the bathroom Gus read the look on his face and lifted the bottle of Wild Turkey and removed the plastic spout and set the bottle on the bar. Richard drank straight from the bottle. The raw whiskey burned all the way down. But he
continued drinking until the bottle didn't shake. Little by little the sad flutes and pipes in his head and the sight of the Indian woman kneeling by her slain son gave way to the big band music of Les Brown. By this time Sam and Doc had slid next to him. Wordlessly Gus served them a drink. As they picked up their glasses Gus rested his elbows on the bar, the sinewy muscles bulging. They all glanced at Richard who ignored them and took another long pull from the bottle. "What was all the excitement about?" Gus at last inquired. "I mean the way that Indian boy came running in here I figured the army had invaded the town." "General Rosa murdered an Indian boy," Doc replied. He added. "And almost me. Not that Sam gave a damn." "You're all wrong," Sam declared. "Bullshit!" he yelled, "What the fuck. The asshole had a gun at my head." "Lips!" Doc pointed out. "Listen, Doc," he angrily replied, "Stick to your babies." "Richard," Sam said. "No," he retorted and pushed the bottle across the bar toward Gus. He stood and snarled, "You are full of shit Sam, you know that. Gus, put it on my tab. Doc's too. And this asshole's also." The last was directed at Sam.
Like a blind bull in a china shop, he rushed for the door and stumbled against the table where Foster and John and Terry sat. They gawked at him. Oblivious of them, he rushed out the door. It was raining outside. Just a slight drizzle. But the drizzle was enough to send the tourists and the peddlers scurrying for shelter. Consequently he had the narrow sidewalks to himself, and bowed his head and muttering curses under his breath hustled across the street. To avoid passing the Plaza...the memory of the dead boy and the gun against his lips still sensitive...he went up Five Calla Poniente. The buildings here offered shelter, and he kept within the confines of the shingled roofs that overhung. After about a block Lt. Oscar fell by his side. The Lt. held an umbrella and offered to shield Richard with it. He shook him off. "So much rain," The Lt. commented, matching his steps. "It is the rainy season," he commented back. "Yes." "The General killed the boy. The boy was just playing a game. The boys always play the same game. You know?" "I know." "Yes," he grunted, "You know everything." There was no answer to that and, both knew. So they walked in silence until they reached Richard's car. "About the rain," the Lt. expressed, "You really should
carry an umbrella. Rain all day and night. Well, I best get back to the station. Death causes so much work. Paper. Funeral. Flowers. So much work." Lt. Oscar loved dramatics. The Latin in him, Richard imagined. But despite the LT.'s little warning, which had nothing at all to do with rain...and everything to do with staying out of the General's way, he angrily shrugged it off. But it was impossible to forget the rain. Day in and day out. Rain. Just damn rain. And mud everywhere. Everything dirty. Always dirty. Impossible to keep clean. Damn them all.
By the time he made it home, the drizzle had turned into a downpour and a river of mudrinsed water rushed along the gullies in the cobblestones. A dirty mist swelled about Richard. Gritty. Ugly. But the water that dripped from where the convertible top met the windshield onto the steering wheel annoyed him the most. And he angrily brushed at it with one hand while tapping the horn with the other, honking for Celia to open the carport. But there was no response and he honked again, and again and again. Still no response. Where the hell is she, damn her. Then angrily sighed, forgot...it was Market day. He cursed, jumped from the car, fumbled the keys, almost dropped them, caught them at the last moment and unlocked the carport. The moment the Toyota was tucked away, he, out of habit, put the top down so the inside would dry, cursing the car while doing this because the latch skinned his knuckles. By the time the convertible top was secure in its boot, he was pissed off at the entire world and stormed inside to the kitchen and took an unopened bottle of Wild Turkey from the shelf
and sat on the living room floor and rested against the couch. He pried the cap off and took a long swig. Followed the first with a second long swig and another and another until half the bottle was gone. By this time he was plenty drunk, head full of evil thoughts, when a knock came at the door. Sam, he thought. Good. He would tell the sonofabitch off good and proper. "Come on in asshole!" he hollered. Crista entered. Expecting Sam, he stared disbelieving at her at first, uncomprehending. Suddenly laughed out loud, thinking, of course they had planned a picnic...he had planned a picnic; a sort of going away picnic. Yesterday's breakdown bleeding into today's breakdown, he, in rare poetic license, drunkenly thought. She wore a red cotton dress. Black hair in a pony tail. A bright I am ready smile in her eyes. A wicker picnic basket dangling from her left hand. He snickered. "You look like Little Red Riding Hood." If disappointed in his condition, she hid it well behind a quick ready smile. But she was German, he thought. "Aren’t you angry at me!" He goaded. "Why?" "I am soused." "You are a little boy." "Yes, yes, I know," he replied, waving the bottle in the air, "All men are little boys."
When she was angry or annoyed there was a way she had of showing this by curling her face up, sponging away the beauty, and for a moment she did so...unnoticeable almost, a jerking of her head to one side while pulling the cheek muscles toward her ears. But he noticed and flashed a victorious grin. She saw this and shook her head at. "It is raining. So we will picnic here," she said, "Unless you want me to leave. I will. Leave." A moment's hesitation in answering was reply enough for her and before he could answer she disappeared in to the kitchen, and a few seconds later returned carrying a towel. He watched, in an amused drunken sort of way, as she spread the towel on the floor. She unpacked the contents of the picnic basket one by one and arranged each item in proper of what her mind deemed methodical order on the towel. The salt and pepper shaker went in the middle. The wine was placed to the left along with two wine glasses. The silverware followed by butter followed by cheese followed by black bread were placed to the right of the wine bottles. "Why not just dump everything in the middle?" "Because life must have order. Especially when you live in such a country." "What if I just lean over and do so." "You are mad. Angry. So if doing so will ease your anger. Go
right ahead." "What if I slap you?" "You won't." "Are your sure?" "Yes." "How can you be so sure?" he asked, annoyed that she knew him so well. "You are not this type of man." "Is the Ambassador?" "Let us not speak of him." "We never speak of him." "When I am with you I am with you." So matter of fact. So precise. So goddamncomposed. Damn her! He wanted to break her composure; just once, and bent over until the towel loomed under him and with a boarding house reach swept everything aside. The salt and pepper shakers went skidding to the far wall. The rest just sort of collapsed into a jumbled pile. He leaned back against the couch and looked at her triumphantly...or more aptly a lopsided drunken smirk of victory. "I better clean this up," she calmly said, and reached for the wine bottles first. Before she could move, he lunged forward and wrapped a hand around her neck and pulled her close. She came willingly, and
half lying on the towel brought her face to his, breathing at her the sour smell of whiskey. The dress had ridden up around her thighs and her white panties showed. He reached over and ripped at them until they came apart from her body. Then buried a hand in her crotch, searching, found, and roughly inserted four fingers in her pussy. She gasped, a little squeak. This wasn't enough. He wanted to hurt her. Hear her cry out. As suddenly as these flurry of emotions had overtook him, the energy from them evaporated and he was ashamed and disgusted and withdrew his fingers. They were sticky from her juices. He meekly rested the hand on her bush. "You are right," he whispered, "I am not that kind of man." His hand fell away from her. She stood, the cotton dress cascading around her ankles. She was going, he thought, and was glad. The sight of her made him sick. Not at her. At himself. Were she to leave maybe he could drink some more and lie to himself and eventually turn away from his actions. But she didn't leave. She stooped and took both his hands in hers. To do this she took the bottle from one hand and placed it on the floor. He let her, guilt the driving force. She urged him up, and together they went to the bedroom, her leading, him following. As if he were a child, she undressed him, folding his clothes into a neat stack on the dresser. While he lay naked, she undressed letting her cloths fall at her feet.
He was very drunk, vision blurred, but not so as he couldn't make out her pink erect nipples. When she lay on the bed, an overwhelming need to take her filled him, and he started to mount her, clumsily so. She held a restraining hand against his bare chest. Confused, he lay back. She rolled over so the peach crack of her buttocks nestled within his stiff penis. "Fuck me there, Richard," she lightly whispered. Then screamed, "Fuck me hard! Hard! Make me cry out! Fuck me!" The passion in her voice, so unlike her, momentarily confused him. She must have felt as much because she fell into speaking German...a low unmistakable moan spoken in the harshness of the German language. "Fuck me Richard! Shove your cock in my ass!" Her harsh command fired his passion.
I'm dying. God I am dying. Help me. Take the host my son. Jesus cleanse my soul. Here my son. Was blind but now can see Taws Grace that taught my heart to fear. And Grace that fear relieved. "Wake up Richard." "Wake up Richard." Amazing Grace how sweet the sound. "Richard wake up!" As if coming out of a fog, he awoke without memory of where he was. Although no longer drunk, the whiskey clogged his mind and the room focused slowly, then through a haze Crista appeared. She was propped up on one elbow, staring down at him. In return, he attempted a lopsided smile up at her. "I was dreaming." "Yes. You were talking out loud. I know the host. I am Catholic. But what is Amazing Grace?" "An old Negro hymn."
"Ak," she replied in German. The expression indicated that she failed to understand the English meaning, or couldn't find a German equivalent. It was just a dream and he left it at that. "How long?" "Two hours. Maybe a few minutes more." "Time?" "Three." "What day is it?" Crista kissed his forehead. "I'll go make you a bite. Eggs? Scrambled?" "Sounds good." A fleeting peck on his lips, a smooth slide off the bed, a deft lifting of her dress off the floor, and a last sight of firm white buttocks...and she, except for her smell, was gone. He lay listening to the rain outside. Slowly the events of the past few hours came back to him. Their violent love making. Ruth. General Rosa. The boy. But most vivid was the anger directed at Crista. He was horrified at first and refused to believe, sure all a dream, a very bad dream. But it seemed so real. The shot, the bicycle skidding, the boy lying on the pavement, General Rosa, the gun tickling his lips, the outburst at Gus's, Crista, the picnic basket, ripping her panties off. All at once he knew it wasn't a dream...and no amount of wishing would change it otherwise.
As the initial shock wore off, he easily justified the outburst at Gus's. He had been frightened and angry. Sam was a friend and would understand. He would apologize. This left Crista. There were no avenues open to justify his actions; ripping her panties, oh hell just come right out and call it almost raping her...and maybe he had raped her...her submission in bed and her cries as he had penetrated her anal cavity. He supposed he could just apologize. No he couldn't, he knew. Oh he could apologize easily enough...he had no illusion, he was that shallow, at least if he had to be. But SHE, she would find an apology most distasteful...she who considered apologies weak excuses fostered by weak men seeking to justify their actions. He had begrudgingly in the past agreed with her assessment, yet at times had also felt neutered by the inability to apologize...the act soothed whatever guilty feelings he had at the time. And he felt plenty guilty right now. Slowly, as if prolonging time added a grace period to going and facing Crista, he got up and went to the bathroom and broke a ten milligram Valium in half and crushed it between his molars...shuddered. As he turned the shower on, he heard a knock at the front door and Doc's voice acceding to Crista's offer of coffee. He supposed Doc was worried about him and had come over to see if he was alright. As much as he could have done without the visit, he more than appreciated the sentiment. With Doc there
he wouldn't have to face Crista alone. A sad trueness struck him as he entered the shower: Yesterday wasn't a fluke incident. He had lost it. It was over. On Monday he would submit a letter of resignation.
By the time he finished showering and dressing the rain had stopped. He found Crista and Doc on the roof terrace sitting on deck chairs sipping coffee. Doc wore his customarily wrinkled suit. Although Crista had donned her dress, she was uncustomary relaxed, hair falling to her shoulders, and barefooted. Although the roof was damp from the rain, the mountain elevation had turned the air humid and crispy spider webs of mildew had already begun to form in the corners of the roof. Even with the humidity, a damp chill lay in the air and Crista had turned on the electric grate and the heat from it was enough to chase away the chill. "Isn't it beautiful," Crista said upon seeing him. She meant Aqua, and indeed she was. Like a woman her moods changed depending on the weather. And like a beautiful woman, Aqua was at her most enchanting after a healthy rain. Obscuring the peak, dark storm clouds unfolded a sheet of gray for as far as the eye could see. Lush vegetation sprouted out from under the grayness of the storm clouds. The varying shades of green sparkled. Sitting, avoiding her eyes, he answered, "Yes." The yes came
out almost a sigh. He glanced at her, seeking a sign, anything, hurt, anger over his rough treatment of her, but she was was…all smooth, happy. "She's like a woman," she softly said, " A steady source of comfort. Yet?" "Yet what?" Doc inquired. "Yet nothing," she murmured. A soft smile flickered across her lips. The smile was for Aqua, Richard was sure. Certainly not for him. He did glean a sad message in her smile. Did she sense the end of them, as he did? Out of the blue he wished Doc wasn't there. Maybe alone he could talk to her, try to explain. She sang softly in a whisper, "Taws Grace that taught my heart to fear. And Grace that fear relieved." The splendor of her voice fit perfectly the still life painting they each watched and for a second they were silent. During that second he knew absolutely and positively it was over. And a sadness overcame him and out of desperation he needed to say something, answer the words she had heard while he slept and dreamed, and he desperately searched for words. But all to no avail. Before he could speak, she broke the moment by standing. "I have your eggs warming on the stove. I will bring them up." A moment later she was a pair of bare feet descending the
staircase. "There goes one special woman," Doc stated. Richard ignored Doc. "How she can love that bastard is a mystery to me." "She doesn't?" Richard automatically replied. "Figure of speech," he answered, waving a hand in the air, "Love as in stay married." "Class breeding," he replied. Again the annoying hand. "Sometimes you disappoint me." "If you have something to say, come out and say it!" he snapped. "The woman loves you. She'd find a way to walk on water for you. Take her and run before this place claims you, chains you." "What a comfort," he sarcastically retorted, "Advice on love from a lifelong bachelor. As for chains? Doc, you've spent the past thirty years rotting away in a tinned roof hut." Hurt flashed across Doc's face. And Richard had already hurt enough people today and wanted to reach out and take the retort back. "Best kind," Doc quickly quipped. "A bachelor has yet to fail at marriage. As for the other, who knows the chains better than the rug beater who wears them?" "Huh, hu Doc, let it go," Richard said as Crista returned. She set a plate of eggs on the table in front of him and lay
knife and fork next to the plate. He forked up a bite, the eggs tasted like sand…losing someone will do that to you, he mused, and he had lost Crista. "I leave you men to talk," she announced, "I will run to Don Vasquez's and buy the paper. Maybe I will also sit and enjoy a cup of coffee. Yes. I will. I will be back in about an hour." During the week Richard received daily at the Embassy in Guatemala City the New York Times. But on the weekend the only Stateside paper that arrived with any degree of regularity in Antigua was the Miami Herald. Don Vasquez, who operated a restau rant and cafe, sold the paper. He did this to service the Englishspeaking clientele who frequented the Cafe. The Saturday edition of the Miami Herald arrived by chicken bus from Guatemala City around five, and usually was sold out by six. She knew he enjoyed sitting reading the paper, and he was heartened by her willingness to go to Don Vasquez's and thought maybe he was reading too much into their situation. After all he had acted the fool when drunk many times before, and she had always taken him in hand, playing whatever role suited the situation, and in the end forgiven him. Lost Crista? Ludicrous! Delusion! Who was he fooling? He was leaving the Embassy which meant a Stateside job. Which meant no more Crista. Who would she make love to when he was gone? A damn sight better than him, he imagined.
"Sure," he readily answered, attempting to add a carefree tone to his voice. After all what did it matter, really? "Yes," she replied, "And you Doc? A loaf of Don Vasquez's raisin bread? Hot out of the oven. Yes?" Doc loved Don Vasquez's raisin bread and his eyes lit up at the mention of it. But he sighed. "No. I would feel too much guilt. The children." She smiled knowingly. A peck on the cheek and she was gone. Richard managed a few forkfuls of eggs, but they tasted like heartbreak....and why not: love lost tastes bitter. A bit dejected, he pushed the scrambled eggs around the plate, not really hungry anyway, while Doc stared at Aqua. When he pushed the plate aside, Doc looked his way. "Amazing Grace how sweet the sound. Not a German hymn." "No," he replied, not bothering to explain. "You surprised me this afternoon," he said. "You mean by getting involved?" "Yes. A fashionable new you?" "No," he answered right off, shaking his head, "Getting involved is a sucker's game." "Why?" "You came all this way for this?" "Sure. When a man acts out of character I am curious. When a man I know well acts out of character I am very curious."
"Really. You've lived in Guatemala for thirty years, and you're curious. Funny, but I was always curious about you and what brought you here. What were you running away from?" "An overbearing father." "We seem to be evading each other's question." "Not I," he replied, shrugging his shoulders. "Please," Richard replied knowingly, "Every foreigner here is running away from something." "And you?" he asked, his bushy eyebrows upturned into an inverted V, "What are you running away from, Richard?" "Nothing. I am the exception to the rule. I work at the Embassy. When I quit I return to the States." He waved an annoying hand. "I am still curious why you allowed yourself to become involved?" For a moment he considered telling Doc About Ruth's request, how he had helped her in the past...helped because she reminded him of his grandmother. He considered this if only to get him off his back. But instead he answered Doc's annoying hand in kind, an annoying dismissal to this bent to the conversation. "Such a harsh land," Doc recited, "Such a beautiful land. Such a land. Pity such a land." "Keats," he inquired. "No. I just made it up. Missed my calling I imagine." "Chess," he asked.
"One game," he answered, "A short one. I must be off. Another child to deliver. You see nature replenishes. One dies and one is born." As he descended the stairs to fetch the chess board, he called out over his shoulder, "Doc, save the poetic crap for later." "Sure," he called out, "While we play we can talk about what brought you to Guatemala. Be good for your soul." The game lasted about half an hour. As usual, Doc won. He left, muttering some poetic nonsense about love. During the game their conversation about why each of them had settled in Guatemala had become forgotten over the actions of the chess pieces. But although he may have lost the chess game, he was one up on Doc. He knew why Doc had settled in Guatemala. While a young doctor, he had botched an abortion at a time when abortions were illegal in the States. The woman had died. Doc had lived in Cleveland at the time and the Ohio State Medical Board revoked his license to practice medicine. Central America, Guatemala in particular, welcomed him with open arms. He knew all this because Doc, when very drunk, told the story with bitterness and bitterly retold the story until he passed out. Doc never remembered, or pretended not, the telling of the story the next morning and out of respect for him nobody bothered to bring it up. With Doc gone he found himself alone on the terrace. He
gently sipped on bourbon and watched Aqua fade into twilight lines and shadows while waiting for Crista to return, and thought about love and Crista and himself...partly because of Aqua's enchantment, but mostly because of what Doc had said about her loving him. He had never remotely considered the word 'Love' in conjunction with their relationship before and the thought was startling to say the least. But as startling as the observation was, he readily accepted that Doc was right. As proof of this he didn't have to look any further than a few hours ago. Her acceptance of the violence of their lovemaking. Meekness really. So unlike her. He wondered why Doc had seen this and he hadn't. But he supposed that he had never consciously entertained the thought of Crista and himself loving each other before because the word love had tactfully been left unspoken between them. For sure, they liked each other, and beyond that they filled an empty space in each other's life. She had a husband who collected beautiful things and hung them on the wall for all to see; and he had so many beautiful things, each commanding his total attention until captured, but once captured quickly forgotten...his attention focused on the next acquisition. But Richard's walls were bare, and in him she commanded attention, even when nursing his drunken moods or running errands, or giving of herself to satisfy his selfanger and fear.
The next thought came naturally. If she loved him would she move to the States? Now there was a truly startling thought. And he laughed out loud...he must be losing it...a few hours ago he was hurting this woman. Now he wanted her to run away with him.
By the time Crista had returned a lush blanket of dusk had settled over Aqua. Although he had drank very little, he was a bit fuzzy, but not so much as to be drunk. She murmured something about laying the newspaper on his desk in the study. He stood and cut her off by greeting her warmly, hugging her and kissing her lips. She responded in kind and after they separated, sat on a deck chair. He reseated himself. "Doc told me about the boy. And General Rosa pointing a gun at you. Why didn't you tell me?" "I was angry," he admitted. "At the boy?" "At the boy? Nonsense. The boy died. At myself, yes, for becoming involved. My actions failed to change the events. In fact made them worse." "Yes, anger. I understand such anger." "The Ambassador?" "Richard." "Richard, yes Richard we do not discuss the Ambassador," he replied, "Well Richard wants to know if you love him?" "I have never loved. I was not bred for love. But yes, I love you. Is this what you wanted to hear. Or do you now want me
to leave. Return to Guatemala City. Never return. You want this?" "No," he replied, "I want to go away with you. Move to New York. Spend my life with you." "Richard. This is liquor speaking. No? On the morrow you will regret these words." "No," he retorted with as much conviction as he could muster, "Over the past few days my life has changed. I can attribute part of this change to Guzman. But only a small part. The gun at my head. This act irrevocably changed me and how I feel about Guatemala. I guess the thought of one's death will do this. Through the experience I discovered several things. One, I don't want to die in Guatemala. Two, I love you. Three, I want to spend my life with you. Grow old together. What do you say?" To jump for joy wasn't her way. But he expected something. A glow in her eyes. Or a smile, perhaps similar to the one she earlier had bestowed upon Aqua. Instead she just sat there, the same expression on her face as was always there: calm, reserved, beautiful. And as he watched her for a moment he thought he had badly miscalculated. And although his heart sank during the moment, he forged forward. "Is it the Ambassador? Do you love him?" "Richard it is not so." "What is it?" "Why does there have to be a what? Why can I not just sit
and savor the thought. We are adults, are we not? Not children." "So the answer is yes?" "Of course." Still, she hadn't really said she loved him...not really. And he thought he detected a note of hesitancy as if she agreed out of duty, not love, and wondered if he wasn't fooling himself. In him she had both, her position as the Ambassador's wife, and a man to care for. He immediately told himself that he was imagining things. Attaching old baggage to a new beginning. But he needed to know, and leaned forward and cupped her face in his hands and stared deep into her eyes. "Do you love me?" "Richard." "Answer the question," he harshly stated. "Yes Richard, I love you." "And you won't miss acting the Ambassador's wife? The supervising of the Embassy? The Cocktail parties? The dignitaries?" "Acting," she said and outright laughed, "Yes acting. All the human race acts. You. Me. But no when the time comes I will not miss acting." Hushing her words, he kissed her full on the mouth, a tender kiss of warmth and love, and she responded in kind. The embrace lasted a good five minutes. Passion fired inside them. They knew she had to go. It was late. But they had to have each other;
Richard felt this. Not so much because of the passion building up inside him, but as affirmation of their love. When his hand slid under her dress and up her leg, he braced for the expected protest of, 'No Richard, I must go. It is late." But protest wasn't forthcoming, only a low moan of pleasure. Their love making had been gentle, sweet, slow...so unlike the brutalities of earlier. Afterwards they lingered...lying in each other arms making plans like two starry eyed kids, and it was well past eight by the time they stood in the driveway. He had said that there were of course plans to be made. Two people who had ties to work and family did not just up and leave without a word or a farewell. He had to submit a letter of resignation and at the very least give two weeks notice. Crista laughed when he explained this and shook her head. She had no plans to make. Nobody to say goodbye too. Throw a few things in a suitcase was about all. As he gazed at her in the splash of yellow spraying from the single overhead light of the car port, he wanted to say the hell with it, let's just drive until we reached the Mexican border. Instead he kissed her, thinking the prim and proper Crista had changed into a new carefree woman. "Be careful driving." "Oh, Richard, the only people to fear are the police and the military. The Mercedes has German Embassy plates. Even in this horrendous country the police and military are not fools."
After what had happened to him this afternoon, he carried a very persuasive argument against what she had just said. But these were his fears not hers. Still as she drove away, he worried on a different level than before love had entered his life. He feared for her. And he guessed this was love. But love was a new commodity to him. Unfamiliar.
Minutes after Crista had left, he donned a wind breaker and rushed out the door, as if a fireman going to fire, to Gus's. The sky, clear and star studded, indicated a rainfree evening lay ahead...if luck held. He bubbled over with excitement, and decided to walk. The streets were empty, void of even a stray dog. The people who lived this far from the City Center were working people and retired early. As protection against thieves, they closed off every possible entrance to their houses. Wood shutters closed off windows. Cars were locked in carports. Iron gates locked behind cars. The narrow cobblestone streets and ancient sidewalks thrice echoed your footfalls; so much so you found yourself constantly looking over your shoulder. Occasionally you spotted another person walking who returned your questioning glance in kind. Because of the possible danger when out at night on foot, he had when walking to Gus's long ago devised the most expedient and well traveled route, and didn't detour from it tonight. He rehearsed, as he walked, a little speech. A very short speech: Crista and he were leaving...screaming the news out the moment he
entered Gus's was out of the question. Antigua was a closeknit community. Playing the town crier in such a public place was insanity. The news would gossip its way back to the German Ambassador. Or worse, General Rosa. Rosa had spies everywhere. Rosa would use the news as trading material, playing the German Embassy off against the American Embassy...So he rehearsed the short speech to only Gus, Teresa, Doc, and Sam. They'd be shocked at the news. Disbelief at first. Especially from Doc. But congratulations were in order. Drinks all around. Yes, he thought, this would be a night to remember. "Yes a night to remember," he mouthed out loud. Right then a hulking shape of a dog hiding in the shadows of the ruins of a church sprang at him, fangs bared, a low menacing growl escaping from between its fangs. Stray dogs were a common sight. But usually they were frightened creatures who, tail curled between their legs, lurked off. To have a dog jump out at him like this was both frightening and unexpected and he automatically screeched, "Alto! Alto!" The word meant stop in Spanish and the dog immediately slowed its threatening advance. The dog paused, unsure. Its black nose flexed, sniffed. Fear. The man was afraid. Of me? Why. I thought he was a cat. That's why I jumped out so. Unhidden by shadows of the ruins, he saw that the dog was a
huge black Rottweiler with a head the size of a bowling ball. Although he wasn't afraid of dogs, its size caused his stomach to curl up in a knot of fear, and his hand crawled in to the right hand pocket of the wind breaker and reassuringly touched the canister of mace always kept there. Standard Embassy issue. He also had a permit to carry a gun. Again standard Embassy issue. But he had refused the gun. He had never fired a gun in his life and was afraid he would shoot himself in the foot. The mace he carried because of stray dogs. Rabies were epidemic in Guatemala and he saw the mace as a line of defense against such. But considering the size of this dog, he wished he had a gun because despite his command the dog began a slow forward movement, its fangs once again bared. Although it would take but a second to withdraw the mace and spray the dog, he hesitated because long ago while protesting against this or that during his student days a cop had sprayed a good dose of mace at him and he had gone screaming in pain with mad thoughts of blindness to the nearest restaurant and spent a good twenty minutes flushing out his eyes. This dog, he reasoned, couldn't flush its eyes out. It would just go blind or mad. Fear, the dog thought. This man is afraid. He is not like the other man. His color is even different. He is taller. Pale skin. And the fear. HE IS AFRAID OF ME. ME! "Alto," Richard said again. As he spoke he raised his left
hand, and replaced the fear he felt with a hard firmness. Wait. Stop. Not fear. I will lower my head. He will be nice to me. He won't hurt me. Just lower the head like with the other man. Then he will be nice. Richard was astounded at the sudden transformation in the Dog. Docile replaced menace, and the huge black head dropped in submission. And there meekly stood this huge black beast who could rip his throat out. Machismo, he disgustedly thought, a Guatemalan man had trained this dog to obey. With disgust, he walked away, the Rottweiler no longer a threat. But to be sure, he glanced over his shoulder. The huge dog stood on the damp cobblestones, confused by this man's departure. The streets ahead, like the streets behind, had a shuttered feel and, apprehension and hunched shoulders not Crista dogged his thoughts and echoing footfalls all the way to Don Vasquez's Cafe. Here he relaxed. And here the streets came alive: gringo students loitered in threes and fours talking and laughing. The cafe, the interior brightly lit, held dozens of people enjoying coffee and pastries. The life inside loosened his hunched shoulders. But he walked briskly from there, intent on reaching Gus's. At the Plaza, he, out of a macabre curiosity, suddenly altered his course and crossed over to the park. He rarely went in to the park at night; here the homeless slept, and rats, under darkness's cover, roamed freely...one carried rabies and the
other would just as soon cut your throat as not. The park's Colonial street lamps played more toward shadows than affording light. The sparse light highlighted a couple making out on a bench. A rat darted from under a bench to the safety of the darkness of the lush foliage behind it...but he wasn't really sure it was a rat: it could have been a cat. A few feet later a woman squatted under the branches of a tree, her dress hiked up around her ankles, urine splashing the grass. He felt like an intruder and hurried along. But a few feet further, his eyes fell upon an elderly Indian couple squeezed between two bushes. They huddled together, wrapped in a filthy blanket. At first he wasn't sure of what he saw, but as the woman's hand moved beneath the blanket where the man's penis lay, he was sure and red faced once again hurried along. After a few steps, he slowed, thinking why not. Why be ashamed. The park was their bedroom as much as the bedroom at his house was the bedroom where Crista and he shared intimate moments. A 'things will be different in New York City,' smile flickered over his lips, and he crossed out of the park, across the street to the Plaza and paused along the sidewalk where General Rosa had gunned down the boy. He wasn't sure what he expected to see. Blood. The mangled bicycle. The boy. But only the dirty pavement stared up at him. Yes, New York City, he firmly planted in his mind and
continued toward Gus's. At he bus station he looped around a few beggars who hadn't given up for the night the hopes of a Centavos or two.
Gus's hopped. The usual big band music, Glen Miller, poured from the speakers. All the tables were filled with chattering happy people. A raucous hum came from the roof garden. Jun lazily stood at the foot to the stairs leading to the roof garden, a tray in one hand. She smiled at Richard the moment he entered, not the usual how are you smile, but a happy faced bright radiant smile; the kind reserved for a friend. Then she touched his shoulder and spoke. Just four words, "How are you Richard?" For a moment he was taken aback at Jun addressing him...speechless really. Aside from taking his order, she had never so much as said hello over the years; he, after all was a gringo. Before he could regain his composure, she shuffled away to wait on a customer. He quickly guessed it was because of his actions this afternoon. He had defended an Indian. The greeting was rather pleasant, especially after all the years spent frequenting Gus's...to be accepted by Jun, well flattering...and as he made his way to the bar he flashed a smile
at her. She returned the smile. Foster and John and Terry who occupied a table near the door, waylaid him. "Heard about this afternoon," Foster said right off. He drank from a bottle of beer. A ring of foam circled his mustache. His tongue deftly sponged the foam up. "How you holding up?" "It was nothing," he merrily replied. "A fluke incident?" Terry asked, her forehead wrinkled. Worried, he thought. Couldn't blame them. Then for a second he grew angry. Why should they be worried. His lips sucked on the gun, not hers. The anger faded as quickly as it had come. He was leaving Guatemala. They were staying. "Just a fluke. The boy mistook General Rosa for a tourist." "Yeah," John muttered, and morosely stared at the glass in his hand. "All this macho shit is over. The Generals know this." "Right," Richard agreed and looked about and noticed Doc in his wrinkled suit slouched at the bar talking to Teresa. At the same time he noticed Alexia and Sam and was delighted. They shared a table near the bar. Sam, his long gangly legs hung loosely out to one side. And Alexia, a German woman who was doing her thesis on nutrition and spent her days monitoring the dietary intake of an Indian village in the mountains. She had drifted to Gus's because Gus's was one of the few bars the German community in Antigua didn't frequent. She said that she disliked their chatter in German, which she called, using an English idiom,
'prattle,' and also their pretentious. She followed this by often complaining that if she wanted to listen to German prattle she would return to Germany. Both he and Sam had met her about a year ago while enjoying coffee at Gus's, and found her a delightful conversationalist. The moment she discovered they worked at the Embassy, she asked for permission to use the Embassy Archives; Sam readily agreed, and had arranged it. Sam and she had quickly become good friends and he often wondered about them, but Sam never offered information, and he didn't pry. They saw Richard and waved. He held up two fingers, indicating he'd be right over. "I need a drink," he said to John, Terry, and Foster. Right then and there and for no reason whatsoever, he decided to let them in on the news. "But don't leave. I have great news to announce." Foster briefly raised his eyebrows, as if to say we'll all be here. John and Terry dully nodded. He had failed to alleviate their fears, he thought, as he went to the bar. Although Jun worked the tables, as busy as the place was he saw that only Teresa worked the bar, and momentarily wondered about Gus. It wasn't like him to be away on a Saturday night. At the same time he saw him at a corner table, his head in his arms...already passed out. The moment he sat on a stool he inquired about Gus. "Received a letter from his exwife," Teresa commented,
while setting a glass on the bar. Lifting the Wild Turkey from the back shelf, she filled the glass neat. "Wants to put the boy in an exclusive residential boarding school. Tore him up. Made a reservation for the morning flight to Miami and from there to Philadelphia." "Poor Gus," Doc commented, "He doesn't understand. Back in his day kids went to the wood shed or if the family was wealthy a military school. Today they go to McDonald's or residential boarding schools." A bit confused, Richard implied as much. Doc leaned over close and whispered, "They're residential treatment centers. Patterned after Gateway House. Ever hear of Gateway house?." "Yeah Doc," he replied, "I've heard of Gateway. But Gus's boy isn't a junkie. At least he wasn't the last I heard." "They ever get a hold of the likes of us," Doc chuckled, a raspy tin foil on tin foil sound, "And we'd come out walking talking zoned out zombies." "Sounds like a new variation on an old theme," he commented. "Shows what you know," Doc snorted, "About anything!" And picked up his glass and joined Sam. "What's really bothering Gus?" he asked, ignoring Doc's abrupt departure. He had often seen Gus drunk, but never this early.
"His son. Really," she replied, her tongue trapped between her lips in thought, as if she was trying to figure the mess out. "Well, I wouldn't make too much out of it," he cautioned, "The boy's almost eighteen. Be at the school six months, graduate. Gus will figure this out come morning. This and a hell of a hangover." "I hope you're right, Richard," She replied, obviously worried, "You know how he loves the boy." Richard did. Gus flew to the States and visited his son every month. Gus had also brought him to Antigua a few times. Richard found him a likable kid. A little overly fond of fancy clothes, fast cars, and girls...but what the hell, at sixteen, which was the last time the boy had visited, life revolved around such things. At least it did when he, Richard, was sixteen. Tenderly, he patted Terasa's hand. "Anything else bothering you?" "Just those damn Indians who hang around the bus station. They stole two chairs while I wasn't watching. Gus was awfully angry at first. Ranted and raved about how I wasn't paying attention. I was. But damn them sneaks, they just appear out of nowhere. And disappear into nowhere" "Quit fretting. An order from your State Department." "Aye, aye, sir," she said and saluted. "Good," he replied. He had just about finished his drink.
"How about a refill?" "And mine," Sam said. He sat sideways on the next stool over. "Have you seen the headlines?" "No, not yet, busy," he answered. "Why?" "The Nobel Committee awarded the prize to Rigoberta Menchu." Richard wasn't surprised by this. Rigoberta Menchu was an uneducated, but selftaught Indian woman who had written a book about life growing up in a village and how the military had come one night and killed her father, mother and sister. The book, her first of many, tugged at the heart and tear ducts; although its accuracy and truth depended on which side was to be believed: the Indians or the government who maintained that Menchu worked hand in hand with the Leftist Guatemalan National Revolutionary Front. She had at one time, but still he leaned toward her version of the events as opposed to the government's. "In literature, good," he responded. "The Peace Prize," Sam countered. "What!" he uttered, the mere thought incredulous. "Yeah, me too. Could have knocked me over with a feather. Explains a lot." And it did, and Richard immediately thought: General Rosa, what a crafty bastard. A few months ago when the Nobel Committee had leaked the list of potential candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize, Menchu had been on the short list. State wanted an
assessment on her chances of winning. Sam and he had spent an entire afternoon discussing the odds of her winning the Nobel Peace Prize. They had rejected the idea. The rejection was based on the fact that Menchu, although a spokesperson for her people, wasn't exactly Gandhi. Photos aplenty existed showing her wearing pea green Guerrilla fatigues and holding a carbine. But they, he and Sam, had made the wrong assessment. And right now some high level suit at the State Department in Washington was probably fuming. But General Rosa had guessed it, he savagely thought, the bastard had put together two and two. The sonofabitch guessed it. And he begrudgingly admired General Rosa right then...a sly old fox, and far smarter then he had given the General credit for. But he wasn't dumb either. General Rosa's statement condemning Black wasn't meant to shift attention away from the Bernard trial. As Sam had said, it explained a lot. And it did. General Rosa was either planning a damn coup, or paving the way for a vicious crackdown on the Indians. The high level suit at the State department in Washington would want an accurate assessment as soon as possible. "God," he said angrily, slamming his fist on the bar causing the glasses to shake, "Damn him." Teresa had set their drinks on the bar. "Who?" she curiously asked. Befuddlement covered her face. The befuddlement made her more attractive than otherwise.
"General Rosa." "Who?" "Nothing to worry about, Teresa," Sam said. She shrugged, as if to say: hey I am missing something, but this is okay, and went off to serve a customer who had pulled up at the bar. "And my sentiments exactly," Sam replied. "Also explains, somewhat, General Rosa's actions this morning. By the way sorry." "Same," he replied, thinking about Crista and himself and their plans. Sam nodded. They joined Doc and Alexia. Also at the table sat Edwardo. On the way, Richard told Sam he had some news of his own to announce. "Really," Sam said, taking a seat. "But it can wait a few minutes. "You two are back," Doc bitched, "Finished conspiring, huh." Doc was drunk. So Richard paid little attention to him...Doc always grew testy when drunk. Instead he nodded at Edwardo. He was one of Antigua's local characters, a tall thin stick figure, face gaunt, reading glasses hanging from a well worn and faded leather, hand made case via a strap around his neck. He had often seen him walking around Antigua and seeing a familiar face had nodded a polite hello. But he had yet to be formerly introduced to him.
Nor, as far as he knew, had Sam. Doc knew him well but slurred he was leaving the fucking formal introductions to Alexia. Doc then scooped up his drink and went over to the bar and engaged Teresa in conversation. He wondered, thinking about Doc's abrupt departure a few minutes earlier, what had happened between now and the last time he had seen Doc which was while playing chess a few hours ago. But the introductions were taking place and he was forced to let curiosity wait for later. After hands were shaken all around, they settled in to their drinks and conversation. As it turned out Alexia knew Edwardo exceedingly well. Although both Sam and Richard spoke fluent Spanish, she insisted they speak English and Edwardo balked, hands genuflecting madly. She teased him about his English, insisting he could speak English better then a Yankee. He insisted that although he could understand English well, after all he had spent a year in New York City, a year spent washing dishes while waiting for a Yankee news organization to hire him, he had failed to grasp the subtleties of the damn language." "Si," Sam joked. "No, speak only English," Alexia ordered. "Alexia," Edwardo pleaded. But his dark eyes danced, lively, aware of the game. "No, Edwardo," she said, unrelenting, "You hide behind your language. Speak English."
There were a few more words between them spoken in rapid Spanish, Alexa's face firm and unyielding, Eduardo’s exaggerated, as only a true Spaniard can be. This was an old game between them. Edwardo was old enough to be her grandfather, and she was fond of him as a granddaughter is. This showed in her voice, soft, yet firm, yet yielding as she bantered with him, but also her face betrayed love, love for this man whom she had adopted as her grandfather. Richard found himself envious of Edwardo, of this love. Of her too, he supposed. Like Crista, she was German, and like Crista, the unmistakable German pride showed, the iron will and spirit, yet there the similarities ended. Alexia, younger, was willing to openly show love, and perhaps even give love; Crista, born when Germany had risen to unprecedented heights before plummeting to the deepest depth, was mechanical...much like the society that had spawned her. He concluded this while observing them banter, and with an inward sigh kept to myself, also concluded he, like Crista, was also a product of his generation, and that truly the world belonged to the young. "Ah the young," Edwardo replied as if echoing Richard's thought, but also resigned, hopeless against Alexia’s persistence, "God, what...how you say, women." Sam snickered, "Yes, Edwardo, we say...God followed by women, and often."
"At least I do," Richard added, thinking about Crista. "Yes, it is the same in my country. The world. Women. Men." He hunched his shoulders for dramatic effect. "Ah," he said and waved a hand. "So we speak English. Yes, we are speaking English, no. So. I am Edwardo." He laughed, a soft chuckle really, and Richard warmed to him, as did Sam. "What country are you from?" Richard asked. "Ah you, how you say, picked up on when I said, 'Is the same in my country.' Yes?" Richard nodded. "Yes. Argentina." "Long way from home," Sam remarked. "Si," he wistfully replied, eyebrows arching. "Edwardo," Alexia admonished. "Si, Yes, is all the same," he replied. He pulled a cigarette from a pack of Montana's in his shirt pocket and lit it. "Yes, a long way from home." A natural break occurred in the conversation when Jun came to ask if they needed anything. Yes they did, and each ordered a refill. Richard had to piss and excused himself and went to the bathroom. After he washed his hands, he stared at his reflection in the mirror for a few seconds. "Hey by the way, he said, I have an announcement to make. Crista and I are leaving for New York."
No, he thought, too bland. Just come right out and say it. "Crista and I are leaving for New York forever." Then sit back and savor the surprise on their faces. Yes, this was the way to go about it. He returned in time to hear Alexia explain that Edwardo was a journalist. He was also surprised to see that Jun had already served their drinks. Sam passed him a glance, the essence being: Looks like you're receiving special treatment tonight. He shrugged. "Was," Edwardo corrected. "Long time ago. No more. I quit. How you say, no do for money. I worked in Mexico and the journalist there are putas. Whores. They write what the government tells them. You see, the paper mills are owned by the government. You write what the government says or your magazine gets no paper. No paper no magazine. My editor send me to see the Minister of Information. The Minister give me things to write and a handful of money. I no puta. No whore. I quit. No more." The intensity in his voice was overwhelming and Richard almost reached over and patted him on the back, as if to say, yes he understood. But he caught himself in time. To such a proud man, such an act would be an affront. So instead he yelled at Jun to bring another round. Jun smiled. This was okay, he thought, help out a little and you get prompt, friendly service. "Yes, we drink," Edwardo said, finishing his drink in a
single swallow. "No talk about such matters. They are past, away, vanished like the wind." Drinking worked for Richard. He felt like drinking. Like getting drunk. It had been a hell of a day. General Rosa. The boy. Crista. The damn dog. Gus lying over at the table. Foster and John and Terry worried. Now Eduardo’s story. Sad. Sad. Sad. But like all good scripts, this one had a happy ending. At least for him. He laughed. Now was the time. This was it. Just open up and announce the news. As he was rehearsing the little speech while at the same time imagining whispering the news to only the people he selected, Lt. Oscar walked in carrying a worried frown pasted around his comical handlebar mustache. He went to the bar and leaned close to Doc's ear. As he talked to Doc, people, as if reading a cue card, filed out of Gus's. Jun disappeared up the stairs to the garden. John, Terry and Foster slid out the front door. "Time to go home," Edwardo said, glumly glancing at Oscar. "They never close this place," Richard remarked, aggravated that the Lt. had interrupted his announcement. "There is always a first time." "No," he replied, "The tourist and Indian bars. But here. No." But Teresa wasn't pouring their drinks and after a moment,
he left the others in conversation and went over to the bar to see what was taking so long. "I see you haven't taken my advice," Oscar said, and gave a upward twist of the corners of his mustache, "to stay out of the rain." "This is home to me. A second home." "Yes," he replied, shrugging his shoulders, "Is why I stopped. I should be home, wife is lonely, but I stopped. I know how important the C.I.A. is." This was an old game, and Oscar enjoyed playing it. "I am the press liaison to the embassy. Nothing else." "Yes, and Sam is the assistant to the Ambassador. But I still know how important the C.I.A. is. Now, General Rosa, there is man who only sees importance in the mirror. Such men. Such men are often very foolish, or depending on their line of work, very dangerous. You see. You do see. Right now. In this moment. As we speak. Right now, General Rosa's finest are canvassing the bars. They are all closed for the night. You see." Yes, he saw. "No gringo fines tonight," he said, not unkindly, knowing the police department depended on the revenue. "Yes. The drunken gringos who have left their passports or papers at their hotel keep their dollars tonight. But this is Guatemala. Generals come and go. Police Lt's. stay...as long as they know their limitations. Well I go home. Make wife happy.
You." The Lt. left it at that. On the way out he paused and exchanged a few words with Sam. The 'what should I do,' look in Teresa's eyes told Richard the night was over. He briefly thought about Crista, the announcement. But the thunder had been stolen. It was probably just as well, he mused, General Rosa was up to something. The wise route was to keep the news about their leaving to himself...for the time being. "Close up," he instructed. "Better," she replied. Gus and Teresa lived in a threeroom apartment behind the bar, and he asked if she wanted help in putting Gus to bed. She shook her head, saying she could handle it. Slouched at the bar, Doc wore a glum sour face. "Let's go Doc," he said, "we'll go to my place." "You know she came in town to see you?" "What are you talking about?" "The boy who General Rosa murdered. His mother came in town to see you. Otherwise she stays in the village. So does the boy." "How do you know this?" "After I left you, I went to a village to tend to a case of meningitis. It was her village. Ruth was there. They both told me. I assisted with the boy's birth. assisted with the birth of
all three sons for that matter. The murdered boy was the youngest. Just ten. A good woman. Husband killed by the military. Raised the children by selling handcrafts. Good woman. A woman of the Lord." Richard was momentarily stunned by the news that the murdered boy and the woman who touched him were the mother and brother of the boy Ruth wanted him to help. "So that's why you're down in the dumps," he replied, growing angry. "I didn't ask her to come and see me. Ruth did. Blame Ruth. Or better yet, blame God. Or yourself for assisting in the boy's birth. Or the mother for chasing rainbows. Or just let it go." "But you could help? The one son. Is this asking so much?" "Doc," he, curbing his anger, responded as gently as possible, "First you praise me for involving myself, now you damn me." "Her middle son has already left to join the guerrillas. The army has her oldest son. She hasn't a son left now. You know what this is like in a village. No husband. No daughters. No sons. You know the village system. Each member must contribute. The mother will wind up on the streets." "Doc," he said, sitting on the stool next to him, "You heal people. This is nice. You wax poetic...nice poetry, corny but nice. All I am is a liaison between the Embassy and the press.
Period." "But Sam?" "Sam. Jesus, Doc. Let's go home. It's late." As Doc lifted his skinny frame off the stool, he did so resignedly. "Sorry. I guess I want to blame someone. But you are right. Blame is for idiots, fools and knaves." With that he left Gus's. Richard considered running after him, but stopped, still a little stunned by the news and still angry. What did people expect, he thought, what did they expect? There wasn't an answer to his thoughts, and he returned to the table in time to hear Edwardo boast, "Thanks for the offer, but I will walk. I fear nothing. Not because I am Brave. No. No. I am an old man from Argentina. The military cares nothing of me. They, like cats in a house, search for guerrillas, but all the mice are in the mountains. So I walk. Is good for the body. Is good to meet you Sam and Richard. We see each other again, no." His face broke into a smile. He planted a frayed straw hat on his head, hoisted a stick that served as a cane and proudly walked out of Gus's. The straw hat was silly looking, what with edges all sort of sticking out every which way, and on almost anybody else the hat would have looked dumb. But resting atop Edwardo, the hat looked dignified. Richard mentioned as much. "I love him," Alexia replied.
"It shows." "Good," she answered. He squeezed her hand. She smiled. They all stood. Teresa turned off all but the lights behind the bar. While they prepared to leave, she gingerly shook Gus. He abruptly came awake and shot up from the table and shouted, "What! My son is..." "Go to bed," Sam ordered. For a moment Gus wavered, saw it was Sam, smiled sheepishly and staggered, assisted by Teresa, toward the rear apartment.
There wasn't a soul on the street. Sam noticed this right off. Sam also took note of the quietness around him. Accustomed to the scratching sound of American music coming from ancient jukeboxes followed by drunken laughter, he found the quiet so unexpected that it loudly stood out. But the Tiendas were shut tered...even the usual stray dogs searching for scraps of food were absent. All at once he noticed the military Jeep doing a slow crawl up the otherwise deserted cobblestones. He nodded to himself, as if confirming a thought, then unlocked the doors to the Mercedes. As they, Richard in the front, Alexia the rear, Sam behind the wheel, climbed in the Mercedes, the Jeep came abreast and stopped. To see inside the Jeep was impossible. The Jeep sported a hard top and the windows were tinted black. The Jeep blocked their departure and after Sam started the Mercedes, he rolled down his window and made a motion with his hand for the driver to move. Richard could scarcely believe they would hassle them, thinking the car carried U.S. Embassy plates and as such was
considered U.S territory. But as he thought this, the passenger window on the Jeep came down and Captain Farabundo, a man he knew well as General Rosa's right hand man in Antigua, stared out. His heart fluttered. Farabundo had a fondness for gold fillings. When he smiled they shone in the dark night. "Sam," he said, his voice friendly, "What are you doing in Antigua?" "Move the Jeep Farabundo," he ordered. "Who is in there with you?" Farabundo asked. "Move your Jeep." "Sam," he said and broadened his smile, "I am doing my job. Searching for guerrillas. Please. You and me. We are in the same line of work." "I am in a mean mood. Had a long day. Now this car is sovereign U.S. territory. Now move the motherfucking Jeep." "Or what!" he challenged." "Or I file a report in the morning." "So file your report. But now I want to search your car to see if there are guerrillas." "Sam," Richard urged, "Let him." "No!" "Sam, please," Alexia cried. "No!" he replied, and angrily pounded a finger on the dash, "This car is American territory."
Because both vehicles blocked each other, there appeared to be a Mexican standoff: Sam couldn't move the Mercedes, nor could Farabundo open his door. Of course, Farabundo had the option of climbing out the driver's door. But he wouldn't do this. Machismo. "Move the Jeep," Sam repeated. Farabundo had lit a cigarette and blew smoke in Sam's face. "Listen, you grease ball mother fucker!" Sam replied, his tone steady, while picking up the mobile phone. He punched in a series of numbers. "I just called in my position and used a code that indicates I am in danger. I have five seconds to cancel the code. Unless I do so a contingent of U.S Marines always on alert will roll out and via a Huey gunship lift off from the Embassy Heliport. Be here in say four minutes, six at the outset. It's your play, greasball." Sam didn't believe the threat frightened Farabundo. He did believe that Farabundo weighed the options and in the end considered it a nowin situation. He believed this because the cigarette glowed as he pulled hard on it, blew the smoke out and snorted, and issued an order to the driver and the Jeep moved on up the street. Sam calmly punched in another series of numbers on the phone before replacing it in the cradle. He swung a U turn and after a block went up 6 Calle Poniente.
Their original intent was to drop Alexia off at home. Tomorrow was Sunday, and Alexia had to accompany a UNICEF health specialist to a mountain village and assist in administering polio vaccinations. And they didn't veer from this. But Richard had expected the ride to her house to be gay, full of chatter. Instead he was silent as Sam drove through the deserted streets, as was Alexia. They both thought about Sam. This was a new Sam to Richard. Tough, unrelenting, and unforgiving. Like this afternoon while confronting General Rosa. Although he knew Sam worked for the C.I.A., he had never believed that Sam had engaged in anything more nefarious than information gathering. Now he wasn't so sure. At Alexia’s house, Sam brought the Mercedes to a stop. She lived a good seven blocks from the City Center. Across from her house lay the darkened ruins of a church. A single street light dimly burned on the block. Shadows flickered over the street. A dog howled in the distance. Wordlessly, she exited the car. They waited until she was safe behind locked doors before driving on to Richard's house. And it wasn't until they reached his house and were safely behind the locked car port, that Richard found the words to convey his anger. "What is the matter with you? What the hell is going on? It's not a full moon. What the fuck!" Sam, in the glow of the dashboard lights, sat there waiting for him to finish.
But Richard was finished and exited the car and rushed into the house. The first thing he did was pour a stiff drink to calm his nerves.
True anger blocks out everything. Such it was with Richard. He blocked out the entire day, both the sadness and the joy. Instead he stewed plenty while sitting on the roof terrace drinking Wild Turkey. And the more he stewed the more anger, frustration, and selfrighteous indignation filled him. At some point he condensed all these feelings into a single point of unspoken thought, "You sonofabitch, you lied to me. You're not a benign arm of the C.I.A. simply gathering information." During this time Sam sat across from him drinking straight from a bottle of Jack Daniel's. He wore, as a priest might, a soft smile. An innocent smile. A patient smile. A smile that said he would wait for Richard to speak and wait a good long time. And Sam did wait a good long time. Two hours. By this time Richard was good and drunk. "You lied," he said finally, and without anger or rancor, for the bourbon had burned away all such feelings. Instead a childlike hurt filled his voice. "I never lied to you," Sam replied. "You're C.I.A.," he sneered. "Sure," he readily admitted.
"Jesus," he bemoaned, "What a fool I've been." "Richard," he said patiently, "Who do you work for?" "The Embassy," he replied, "but I am the liaison to the press, not an assassin." "I am the C.I.A.'s information officer. I don't kill people." "Please," he sneered, "You were ready to tonight." A hand, as if waving off a pouting child. "You work for the United States Embassy," he spelled out, "As do I. In short we both represent our country's interest in Guatemala. And in Central America, Guatemala is a forgotten country. Nicaragua, the people back home love it. Almost nightly on their televisions, Congressional hearings concerning the IranContra coverup flash across the screen. El Salvador the same. Panama, hell, the people watched the entire invasion minutebyminute via satellite. But Guatemala. Nobody cares back home. Or in the world. You know the statistics as well as I do. The civil war in Nicaragua incurred about one hundred thousand lives. In El Salvador the toll for the twelve year civil war incurred around seventy thousand lives. In Panama, about fifty thousand lives. Guatemala, the socalled civil war has over the past thirty years claimed over three hundred and fifty thousand lives. You read the newspapers back in the States or watch Rather at six and not a word about this. You know why? The Generals. They run this country with an iron fist.
All information comes through the Minister of Information. Hell, the leftist Guatemala National Revolutionary Front is a joke." None of this was news to Richard, and it was his turn to raise a hand, as if dismissing a yapping child. "What's your point? And what does all this have to do with what happened earlier?" "Like I said," he continued. "We represent U.S. interests. Now I don't know what this means to you, but to me it means three things. First and foremost, the safety and secure passage of all U.S. citizens. Secondly, my finger on the pulse of what the hell is going on, and last but not least, to maintain a short leash on idiots like General Rosa. A couple of years ago the man who held my current post loosened that leash, and Bernard was brutally murdered. I don't intend to let such butchery occur on my watch. And the only way I can accomplish this is to play hard ball when necessary. Believe me I was scared shitless tonight, but scum like Farabundo are like mad dogs and once you allow him to frighten you, he'll bark in your face every chance he gets until one day just for kicks he'll cut you into little pieces. And sure State will file a very angry and very official report demanding a full scale investigation...but the investigation won't do whoever is dead any good. End of speech." Even in his drunken state, or maybe on account of it a lot of what Sam had said made sense. And as for Sam's role in the
C.I.A., Richard wanted to believe him. Wanted to because he refused to believe he could be so wrong about a man. Wanted to because they were friends. But as he sat there he realized they weren't close friends. They were working friends. When he stayed in Guatemala City he bunked in at Sam's place at the Embassy compound. Sam did likewise when spending the night in Antigua. And they enjoyed each other's company; the company of men enjoying men: imbibing too much hair of the dog and loudly closing Gus's or a bar in Guatemala city. Or staying up half the night shooting the bull, trading Embassy gossip, highlighting the current dirty joke making the Embassy rounds, or quietly dining at a restaurant while discussing business. But he really knew very little about Sam. And Sam him. "How did you get started in the C.I.A?" he asked, but even in his drunken state the question sounded more like an interrogation. To interrogate a friend, to demand he justify himself to you is a terrible thing. And when Sam threw him a hard hurt look, Richard shied away and pretended to glance at Aqua. "In Budapest," he replied, his tone dry. "In ninety, when the whole mess fell apart. I had played the oil game back in Texas, went bust...blonds and creative accountants. I called in a favor and was hired as the Embassy information officer." "Why you?" "Beats me. Political. Never trained for the job. All I can
figure is the heads at the C.I.A. and State attached little significance to the position. Probably had more experienced men working the field." "What the hell brought you down here?" he asked, growing interested. "In Budapest the ball of string unraveled," he answered, his eyes clouding over in memory; a painful one. "While working as a journalist, did you know, or hear of Dick Waterson, Daniel Logan, Katrina School?" Richard knew the names, Waterson and Logan. But had never met them. They were journalists. Katrina School, he knew well. They were lovers too many years ago to want to remember: when youth traveled hand in hand with romance. That Sam had known them surprised him and it showed. "They are all dead." Sam's eyebrows arched. "Yeah." Picturing Katrina's face, he slurred, "Each members of an honorable profession." "Yes. There was also a kid, Peter..." "Also dead. Along with Katrina. Same fire fight. This honorable profession they practiced...well, their press credentials didn't do them much good." "No. I was the one that got them into Romania." He breathed deep, and sighed. "Waterson and Logan came out. Katrina and the
kid stayed. I caught hell from State. But I liked Logan and Waterson, and Katrina, for a woman she had guts...and the kid, well. Young. But a gamer." His voice grew too choked to continue. "A gamer." "Yes, a gamer. Rare in the young. Anyway, the Texas creditors still hounded me, so my connection at the State assigned me to Guatemala. The assignment appeased the nerds at State who wanted my head on a platter...like I said earlier, who cares about Guatemala." Richard stared stupidly at the drink in his hand. Just brown colored water. Fire water, as the American Indians called it. Stupid fire water, he thought. Stupid fire water and stupid Guatemala. But soon he would leave Guatemala behind. Leave her without remorse. "So what brought you to Guatemala?" Sam asked, breaking into Richard's thoughts. So he told him. The early years spent as a journalist working the obits on the Chicago Tribune while yearning for a more exciting assignment overseas because that was where the real journalist worked. The wife, the promotion to city editor, the house in the suburbs, the divorce, the early retirement, the boredom of lounging at home working crossword puzzles, or sitting at local bars with other retired journalist reminiscing about
their glory days in the news business. When he was sure life had dealt him a sour hand the offer as liaison in Guatemala came his way. The job was one that no self respecting journalist would take. Or as Edwardo put it, only a puta took such jobs. But he jumped at the opportunity. The crossword puzzles, he self justified at the time, and the repetitious retelling of the past that was never that damn glorifying to begin with. But he left out the last part. Pride. He had never cut the mustard, never, unlike Katrina, made it out of Chicago to a post overseas. He left out the last because his story seemed, at least to him, boring, stupid, and so middleclass sad.
Maybe it was the whiskey, or maybe the remembrance of years of a life fled from...for both. But for whatever reason they fell silent and remained silent for a very long time...long enough for the sun to rise high enough to hide away yesterday's losses and reveal dreams that hide in Aqua's lush forest foliage. In any event, it was finally Sam who broke the ensuing silence. "You worried about General Rosa?" "You mean because I saw him shoot the kid in cold blood?" "Yes." Richard hadn't told Sam about Ruth, or seeing General Rosa. "Doc tell you?" "Yeah," he replied. "About Ruth?" "All of it. About the kid also. And Ruth. Nice woman." "Yes. Hell of a thing to happen. Stupid. Just stupid." "So you worried about General Rosa?" "No. He doesn't care about this. Does it matter? No, probably not. He was just pissed I had interfered. And wanted to
scare me. Besides, you are right. Let a bully like him push you around and everyday at the school yard he is there asking for a quarter or impressing the other kids by strutting his stuff at your expense." "I want to pull his chain," he stated. "General Rosa?" "Right. General Rosa. I hate the bastard. "Why?" "Because the bastard thinks he is king," Sam replied. "You must feel the same way. Like I said Doc told me why you became involved. The Indian woman, her son forcibly conscripted into the Army. The other son taking off for the hills to join the guerrillas. How she came to town to see you. Not your fault, I mean what occurred. But you must also hate the bastard." Hate was probably too tame a word for how he felt about General Rosa, and he said as much. "General Rosa hates the Indians," Sam replied, "He'd burn every Indian village to the ground if he could. So we give the Indian woman back her boys. Enroll them both in the American school. Think of it. Educate them. When the time comes secure a grant to send them to an American university. They return home educated, but Indian, remembering General Rosa and what he did. Just think of it." Richard did think. And the fact that he was drunk, both on
Aqua's beauty and on whiskey, helped to fuel the obvious question. "How?" Sam leaned forward, his arms resting on his knees, "Right under his nose without him ever knowing he is being manipulated. General Rosa doesn't know about the Indian woman and the fact that all three sons are connected. He doesn't know the Indian boy who was conscripted into the army. We give Ruth what she wants. We have her submit a request to the American School for the son who's in the Army. I have the request expedited, rubber stamped and approved. The director of the school forwards to the Minister of Defense a referral for the boy so he can attend school. I happen to know that the Minister has a mistress with very expensive tastes. A few dollars requisitioned from the Embassy slush pool passes hands and the boy goes from soldier to student. General Rosa is out of the picture." "What about the other son?" "Doc is the key. He works the mountain villages. Knows the people. The guerrillas move through the mountains and villages with ease. And I've long concluded that Doc offers his medical services to them. Nothing fancy. Penicillin. Minor operations. If Doc can arrange a meeting with Jorge, the main rebel leader, I am sure I can work a deal for the other boy." Doc and Jorge! The thought was incredible, comical, absurd.
To the Indians Jorge was a mythical figure. Real but not so. A ghost who commanded the forces of historic righteousness against evil. In short he would salvage defeat from the jaws of victory. To the U.S. State Department he was real enough flesh and blood. The Leftist Guatemalan National Revolutionary unit was made up of several guerrillas groups. Amongst the groups, Jorge was considered the leader. To Richard he was a statistic. Richard grew excited, but contained his composure. Earlier thoughts of mistrust resurfaced. C.I.A. Did the C.I.A. finance Jorge? No. Thinking dumb. "You're not talking about arms," he said, falling back on his years at State. "No, something like that requires State approval. We would be on our own. But I haven't thought it out that far. Possibly cash, or a promise to push his cause with State...legitimize him so to speak. Never met Jorge, few people outside the Leftist Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unit have, but I hear he's a vain bastard. He might go for the latter, if only to further gain stature amongst the Indians." Exhausted from all the thinking and speaking, Sam sighed and leaned back in the chair and stared at Aqua. Clouds had slid in over Aqua, and daylight shadows covered the upper half of the volcano. The more Richard had listened, the more the idea intrigued
him. He saw it as sort of a way of saying goodbye to Guatemala. While at the same time firing a shot at General Rosa...something he could never do while working at State. Yet a part of him hesitated. Not out of fear. But caution. And, mind whiskey clouded, he couldn't lay a name to this caution just then. "If State finds out it's your job? Like in Budapest?" "Your job too," he reminded. He almost said, no, I am going off with Crista. Why he held back confused him. Again caution, he supposed for lack of a better explanation to himself. But hold back he did. "I will speak with Doc..." Sam started to say: in the morning. But realized it was morning. "Later today." Sam stood and after a long stretch, shaking the kinks away, stared down at Richard who met his stare. Sam's face, like the flip side of playing cards, was emotionless. "Are we foolish?" "Maybe," Richard replied, "Maybe we should sleep on it." "Yeah," he listlessly agreed. His earlier enthusiasm seemed to have vanished, "Well, I am heading home." "Home," he echoed, surprised. "Yeah, a lot has happened. Rosa. Menchu. I want to get a jump on Monday. Feel Doc out. I'll see you on Monday. However events play out, Monday promises to be a bitch. By the way, what was it you wanted to tell me at Gus's?"
"What?" he asked, a bit confused. "You said you had news." "It was nothing," he replied. Sam didn't pry. Richard walked him to the car port and watched as the Mercedes disappeared around a bend in the road. He went to the bedroom, undressed and lay spread eagle on the bed. He closed his eyes but was too troubled to sleep. Crista lost was now found. And her smell lingered on the pillow case, rose perfume. So lingered too the aura of raw sex: fuck me there. He found himself growing stiff and excited, but was too tired for the passion to take hold and after a second it settled back inside and lay still. Against all this, lingered General Rosa's face and the cold steel gun. And facing General Rosa stood Sam. For the first time he knew what had bothered him about Sam's idea. Sam did?? Although they had exchanged life stories, he still mistrusted his intentions. Was Sam using him? Was State using? But why him? Because he had gotten involved today? A first for him. Stupid. He was thinking stupid. But he answered himself: If it is so stupid why didn't you tell Sam about Crista? He replied to himself: Because I was tired. Because I was drunk. Because I carried an as yet unnamed caution. Disgusted by his thoughts and mistrust, he stood and went to the bathroom and took the other half of the ten milligram Valium
and ground it between his molars, barely noticing the bitterness. He returned the other half to the container. The pill rattled around the bottom of the bottle, and he made a mental note to pick up a fresh supply, then placed the bottle in the medicine cabinet and returned to his prone position on the bed. He waited for a deep sound sleep to draw in, but instead fell prey to a shallow dream state where the events of the past few days replayed themselves over and over.
The religious 'Let's raise Jesus Christ,' as Richard long ago had dubbed the pipe bombs, woke him. The explosions reverberated throughout the entire house, shaking the windows, dishes, pots and pans. The pipe bombs were crudely made fireworks: eight ounces of gunpowder stuffed in a cloth sack. A fuse was attached to the mouth of the sack. The sack then was stuffed into a threefoot iron pipe. The fuse lit, the pipe acted as a mortar and the sack of gunpowder rocketed out of the pipe and once airborne exploded. Kabooom! It was an old religious custom and every church in town set them off on Sunday from six a. m. to noon. Kaboom! Kaboom! All fucking morning. Kaboom! Kaboom! Kaboom! There had been some Sundays Richard just wanted to go out to a graveyard and dig up a skeleton and carry the rotting bones to the nearest church and say: Here, Christ has risen. Now let me sleep. But although the 'Jesus Christ bombs' had woken him, he didn't feel at all like going to a graveyard and digging up a skeleton. He truly felt like shit. And it wasn't because of the
pipe bombs...he had long ago grown accustomed to them, and in a masochistic way actually derived pleasure from lying in bed and cursing Jesus Christ and every saint that came to mind. What troubled him was that he had a forreal hangover...temples pounded, eyes throbbed, teeth ached. But of greater concern was the sharp pain in his right side. He stumbled out to the kitchen and through bleary eyes and shaking hands sliced several oranges in half and placed them in the juicer and squeezed until the glass brimmed over, and, hands trembling, quickly drained the glass. After the orange juice, he set about scrambling four eggs; but cooking wasn't his forte: egg shells spilling onto the floor, couldn't find the margarine, damn couldn't find the pan, damn Celia. Where was she when he needed her. At god dam church. Probably lighting a fuse for a god dam, let'sraiseJesusChrist fromthedead pipe bomb. Frustrated, he slouched over the sink. A second later the orange juice backed up and he gagged and threw up in the sink. He lay his head against the cold porcelain and gasped in air for several minutes, wondering why he felt so miserable. He had only had two drinks at Gus's, and although had finished off almost a fifth of Wild Turkey while talking to Sam, had swallowed the timehonored hangover slayer Valium before going to sleep. But the mere thought of why he had such a terrible hangover hurt. Hell, just thinking hurt. So as soon as he felt stable
enough to move, he went to the bathroom and dealt with showering, shaving, and dressing...the three thoughtless repetitious actions he had dealt with for years. The pipe bombs continued overhead, but he paid then scant attention. Moving around eased the pain in his side, and the familiarity of the actions restored an exceedingly meager semblance of thought. Before he left the bathroom, he decided to take another half a Valium. The lone half pill in the bottle reminded him of the mental note to purchase more. He ground the pill under his molars...again not noticing the bitterness...while stuffing the empty bottle in his pocket. He was sure within the hour the pill would do the trick. As he bathed in this reassuring thought a knock came at the door. The knock turned out to be Doc. As usual his suit was wrinkled, looking like it had been slept in and his hair was frayed and uncombed. "I don't see the Mercedes. Sam leave?" Because of Richard's condition, he responded in single words. "Yes. Menchu. The Prize. Rosa. Work." Absently he nodded. "You look like shit." "Feel like it too." "And it smells like vomit in here." "Is this what you came over for?" "No. Came by to see if you wanted to go for coffee."
"Sure," he replied, "Salud?" Doc nodded, "Let's walk." The thought of the cobblestones, the shock of his feet striking them, and the ensuing vibration rattling his head were too much to consider, and he suggested they take the Toyota. Even as ill as he felt, he noticed Doc eyeing the Toyota. The top was down, and knowing how much Doc hated riding in a open car...said it messed his hair...he expected an argument, and wasn't disappointed. Doc raised his head toward Aqua. Dark thunderclaps obscured the peak. "Rain," he said, "So let's put the top up." "The rainy season is over," he idly remarked, thinking he needed the top down, needed the fresh air, "Those are just fool's clouds, much like fool's gold." A visible shudder passed through Doc. Over the years Richard had come to know the shudder well. Doc dreaded the end of the rainy season. A long period of dry weather followed and with it disease. Soon from wherever water collected and stagnated...discarded tires, rusted tin cans and buckets...scores of transparent mosquito hatchlings would spread malaria, and yellow fever. As the dry season deepened, the remaining ground water would become black water foul, and the Indians, desperate for water, bathed, cooked, and drank what they could find. This began the spread of dysentery. Sanitation being what it was,
hepatitis followed. Meningitis flew on hepatitis's deadly wings. Doc dreaded meningitis the worst. Meningitis killed the very young, he would bemoan, and not quickly, but slow, painful, as if suffering to die was their short but cruel bittersweet destiny. The first slip of the day, Richard thought, regretting bringing up the end of the rainy season. "You can't stop the seasons," he said. "Yes. Seasons in the sun, in rain, and in death." "The top down will bring us good luck," he assured. "Be like waiting for a bus that won't come...just light up a cigarette." "Bad metaphor," Doc glumly replied and settled in the passenger seat.
The Cafe Salud was located in the heart of Antigua's tourist district. As it was Sunday, tourists would be rushing to find a last minute bargain before returning to Guatemala City. Richard's condition poor at best, he sought to avoid this rush by meandering side streets. The cobblestones rocked the Toyota about as if a small boat on a rough sea. The pitching caused a seasick sensation in the pit of his stomach and twice he became so nauseous he pulled over to puke out the window a mucus colored stream; each time he breathed in deep forcing the nauseous feeling away only to feel it return a few blocks later. If Doc noticed, and he did and chuckled inwardly, he kept it to himself, and spent the ride with one hand holding the top of his head so the wind wouldn't rearrange and thus comb his uncombed hair. The other hand drummed steadily on his thigh. By the time they reached the Cafe Salud, Richard felt so ill he was ready to return home. Doc could examine him, he thought, maybe he had picked up dysentery or worse cholera. The mere thought made him shudder. He reassured himself he wasn't sick. No dysentery or cholera. The self reassurance wasn't working. Cholera had taken
root in his mind. He had cholera. Damn it. But how? The woman. She had touched him. Or maybe in Lima. At the Cafe Salud luck circumvented his all but decided decision to return home by offering a parking space directly in front. He opted for a cup of coffee. After the coffee, if he still felt like shit he would tell Doc and Doc could examine him. As soon as he turned off the ignition, he ungracefully spilled out of the car and bumped into a boy selling straw hats. The stack of hats the boy carried went flying. The boy apologized. Richard heard Doc mention putting the top up and locking the car. "We'll watch the car from the balcony," he mumbled. Like Gus's bar, Foster's cafe mirrored his personality. Where Gus was obsessed with big band music and dim lighting, Foster's cafe thrived on the Greenwich Village hippieof yesteryear coffeehouse atmosphere. The ground floor sold clothing and Indian handcrafts. The upstairs cafe sported unvarnished wooden tables, and mismatched chairs. An old grade school chalkboard nailed to the wall served as the menu. The fare, all vegetarian, wasn't Richard's nor Doc's style. But Foster served the best coffee in Antigua, and perhaps all of Guatemala, and rightfully bragged about it. They took up roost on the second floor balcony. Aqua loomed far ahead. The cries of street peddlers hoping to catch the last
of the weekend tourists rang out below. Richard took it all in, the peddlers and Aqua, and a half hour later along with three cups of coffee the nausea cleared. So it was just a hangover after all, he mused. But he couldn't accept this explanation. He had drunk far more whiskey in the past and had never woke up feeling like he had felt this morning. He briefly considered stress, what with the decision to leave Guatemala. He rejected this out of hand. The decision to leave had alleviated his stress not added to it. So he added scrutiny to the conversation between Sam and himself the previous evening...hoping to find a clue there for his illness. As he did so Doc continued speaking, as he had been all along, working over his favorite subject: child birth. Richard only half listened. "A bloody affair, even in a well equipped hospital, but on an earthen floor, termites, roaches, flies...god awful. And you'd be surprised at how often the walls of the uterus tear...like paper...blood pours out and the insects, carnivorous little bastards they are, smelling blood hungrily scurry toward the source. Within moments the ground beneath the woman is awash in insects...who themselves are drowning in the food source they sought; sort of poetic justice. But that is another story...or nature. But why the uterus tears is a more fascinating story. This happens of course because a baby is too large to squeeze
though such a small orifice. The babies, large as watermelons, and god the mess they create while clawing to enter the squalor awaiting them. Screaming and..." Richard made a snap decision and a bit too forcefully interrupted him. "Doc!" "Sorry," he quickly apologized, knowing how much Richard disliked when he ran on about such matters, "Gory subject. But Doctors. Well, this is shop talk for us." "No, no" he assured, waving a hand, "I want you to take me to the village the dead boy came from. Want to meet his mother. Can you do this? Will you? "So you are human after all my boy." "Dooooooc," he said in a slow steady tone. "Sorry, sorry," he said, fussing with his cup, "So wrong of me. When do you want to leave?" "Soon as we finish our coffee, and..." He quickly clamped shut. He had started to add: and stop at the pharmacy and purchase some Valium. The way he felt about the decision, he could have used one right now. But if Doc knew he was taking Valium, a lecture was sure to follow. So he blandly repeated, "Soon as I finish my coffee." "Fine, fine," he clucked like a chicken, obviously delighted with himself. "Yes, jolly fine," he mumbled.
"Just so," he cheerfully sang out in an off key baritone. A few minutes later only a sip remained in the cup, and Richard savored it while Doc happily drummed his fingers atop the table. He began to think that going to the village was stupid. As he thought this he found Doc's drumming fingers annoying and was about to tell him to stop it when Foster appeared on the balcony...his eyes were sad. And the sad eyes surprised Richard. He had never seen Foster sad. Angry, yes. Frustrated at conducting business in Guatemala, sure...this was after all Guatemala. But Sad? He started inquire as to what troubled him, but Doc spoke first. "I figured it out." "The chess move?" Foster replied. But still his eyes remained sad. Richard expected Doc to notice Foster's mood. But wrapped up in his own joy, he continued. "No, no. I figured out what I would find if I cut you open." The lost sparkle in Foster eyes returned and crawled down to his lips and he laughed out loud. "What, Doc?" "An upside down Buddha." Foster had girth and his belly rolled in laughter. Richard said, just to add two cents to the conversation, "The Buddha would be stamped, 'Made In Thailand.' But exported to Guatemala." The remark, made in jest, was due to Foster's rather lengthy
exportation of handmade Guatemalan clothes and jewelry. Foster's eyebrows rolled sideways, and those gentle confessional eyes smiled at him. "And what would you find inside Richard?" he asked. "Just kidding, Foster," he quickly replied. "I know," he remarked, but continued staring at him. Doc took a moment to consider this. As he did, he finished the coffee and stood, then sat back down. "Skip it," Richard said. "A tarnished seeker of truth," Doc shot out, and leaned back to see the reaction from Foster. Foster pointed a questioning finger at Richard. "Wrong," Richard sighed, "You'd find a Chinese fortune cookie. Inside the fortune would read: do not take kindness as a weakness." "I'll work on it," Doc playfully answered. "Work on it later," he replied, "For now let's go. It's getting late and I want to be home before dark." "Where you off to?" Foster idly inquired. "Truth," Doc sang, "We tarnished seekers, of truth, depart, for there be untarnished truth out there." "And there be dragons," Richard dryly added.
"Amen," Foster replied. "And while you're searching for truth, be careful truth doesn't find you. In short the town is full of men in crisp blue clothing." His eyes changed to the sadness that had been there when first appearing on the balcony. "Because of this I have removed all politically sensitive movies from the schedule. I hate doing this. Makes me feel like a coward. But one must exercise caution. Still." He shrugged. "I come close to hating the generals. I work against this hate. But we are so different." The reason for the sad upturned eyes, Richard thought. Poor Foster. The happy Cafe Salud y Amor. Translated to English, Health and Love. Foster's little bit of peace on earth. Foster's yoga beliefs stuffed in a coffee cup. "I am sure it's nothing," he assured him. "Hope you are correct," he responded. "Ready Doc?" he asked. But Doc remained silent. Instead he stared at his cup, his mood now somber at hearing Foster's news. After a second, he stood. Richard paid the bill and they went downstairs. But Foster's warning rang ominous, and they lingered within the entrance and surveyed the street. But if General Rosa's storm troopers were there, they failed to spot them. There were only peddlers and tourists maneuvering their way along the narrow sidewalks.
Still, Richard believed Foster. Foster, like the wily Lt. Oscar, had his finger on Antigua's pulse. But the presence in Antigua of General Rosa's special forces two days running puzzled him. If General Rosa was planning a coup, he most certainly wasn't going to storm the Presidential Palace in Guatemala City from Antigua. But the Indians. They flocked here from the mountains to sell their wares. So it was a crack down on the Indians, he concluded. But his conclusions on General Rosa and what he was up too were Embassy business, and he kept them to himself. He did wonder if Doc had come to the same conclusion, and if he would pass the news on to Jorge; if he even knew Jorge. Perhaps Sam had been mistaken. He filed away a mental note to mention the troops to Sam first thing Monday morning. But decided to leave Doc out of the picture. "What is the name of the village?" "Santa Pina. A few miles up the slope from Santa Maria De Jesus." If ignorance is bliss, ignorance can also leave a person feeling stupid, and Richard was both right then. "Where is the village located and how do we get there?" That Doc harbored disdain for what he considered to be Richard's apathy concerning the Indians over the years, a disdain thinly veiled by his little jokes, and digs, was ever apparent. But if he was surprised by the extent of Richard's ignorance of
the locations of the surrounding villages, he hid it well. "High on the slopes of Aqua," he explained, "We go to Santa Maria Jesus, from there we hike to Santa Pina. I think it best we go by chicken bus. General Rosa's elite band of notsomerry men knows your car well." Doc's suggestion that they forgo driving the Toyota and take a chicken bus struck two chords in Richard. The first he filed for later examination. Thinking of the second, he glanced at the sky. The thunderclaps above Aqua had spread out over Antigua. And the air static dry, as it is before a sudden downpour. "It's going to rain," he ventured. "Maybe we should wait it out." "You've never ridden on a chicken bus have you?" he teased. Speaking harshly, Richard admitted as much. "But that's not it," he added. "Come," he said, taking Richard by the elbow and pulling in the direction of the bus station, "It will be fun. An experience. Besides the rainy season is over. You said so yourself. Fool's rain. Fools gold. So we're just two old fools. General Rosa's fleas won't bother two old fool's." Actually Doc was correct. Riding on a chicken bus. Richard shuddered at the mere thought. But there was no backing out now. He had committed. So he allowed Doc to steer them toward the bus station. They were two blocks from the bus station working
through the throngs along the narrow sidewalk, when simultaneously buckets of water dropped from the sky and the unmistaken crisp blue uniforms of General Rosa's special forces appeared. These weren't just soldiers but General Rosa's elite and they moved arrogant, cocksure, unafraid of everything around them. They walked three abreast, and every living thing on two and four legs spilled off the sidewalk to the harsh cobblestones in deference to them. Doc saw them first, and suddenly released Richard's arm, who, sensing something was amiss looked about, and spotted the troops. They both slid under the overhang of a shingled roof; partly because of the rain, but also to watch the soldiers. The sight of armed soldiers wasn't an anomaly on the streets of Antigua...even General Rosa's elite prowled about now and again. Richard had watched them many times before, on streets, at official functions, during parades, and always the same feeling overcame him: this was what it was like to watch the Nazi Storm troopers march along the wide boulevards of Berlin. A moment later the troops disappeared...becoming a rain swept illusion. He had no idea where they had ducked into for cover. And didn't care, and instructed, "Let's go." "The rain," Doc protested. "Follow me." Three buildings out of four had an overhanging shingled
roof. The trick was to kitty jump from one side of the street to the other and slide back flat against a building that held slim shelter from the rain. As Richard had often gone from Gus's to the Cafe Salud in the rain, he was experienced at this and was very nimble and apt at crossing from sidewalk to sidewalk in two leaps. Doc, because of his age, wasn't as nimble and arrived at the bus station soaking wet. They stopped at Gus's so Doc could towel off his hair and arms. Gus wasn't there. Nor was Teresa. Only one couple sat at a table. Jun worked the empty bar. When she saw Richard her dark eyes lit up. She gladly produced a towel. "See what comes from helping the Indians?" Doc said. He ignored him and asked her where Gus and Teresa were. Jun explained that Teresa had driven Gus to the Airport in Guatemala City. He was going to see his boy. "Dumb Gus, just plain dumb," Doc muttered under his breath.
Whatever fears Richard harbored concerning chicken buses began to unfold within him the moment he boarded. The first obstacle that confronted him was how the system worked: paying, seating, calling out stops. A part of him expected it to be the same as in the States. You pay and take a seat and the driver calls out each stop. Washington street next. Jackson street next. Madison Ave. Twenty Eight and Archer. And he politely, to a man sitting in the driver's seat, inquired about the fare...the amount, but the driver ignored him. Doc physically shoved him up the aisle. The bus appeared to be full, two people to each seat. And he protested this to Doc, thinking they could take the next bus. But Doc just grunted and positioned his rear on a seat where an Indian woman and two children sat who paid Doc no attention whatsoever and simply scooted over a few inches allowing him room enough so half his ass occupied the seat while the other half hung out in mid air. Two rather gaunt Indian men occupied the seat across from where Doc sat. "Sit down," Doc instructed. "I'll stand."
"Richard sit. They won't bite you." A bit dismayed, he cautiously perched on the very edge of the seat so he had to grasp Doc's seat to keep from falling to the floor. The Indian men saw this and slid over and huddled close together. He thankfully scooted over a few inches, but felt guilty about forcing the men to huddle close. Rain pelted the tin roof, sounding like pebbles. Feeling out of place, he avoided the other passengers eyes, and gazed at the front of the bus which was adorned with a collage of stickers and ornaments. A faded picture of Jesus dangled from the rearview mirror. A rosary also hung there. Pasted in an arch across the top of the windshield was the logo: Oakley Thermonuclear Protection. Two silhouette stickers of naked women were pasted on the upper corners of the windshield. He didn't find the little homilies...as the driver must of saw them...comforting at all. Then his eyes were instantly drawn to English letters etched in black on metal casing which was riveted above the center of the windshield: You will be expelled from this bus and a written report submitted to your parents if you: Stick your head or arms out of the window. Strike the child next to you Talk in a loud manner Move about while the bus is in motion Chew gum
Act unruly Remember these rules. Although the rules represented idiocy, especially considering where he was, for a millisecond the rules shocked him back fifty years in time. He was a child going to school and was very very impressed and scared by the importance of what his eyes read. The second passed and he laughed out loud, momentarily startling the Indians next to him. They passed a passive bland darkeyed stare before returning to gazing straight ahead. Doc, who had obviously been watching out of the corner of his eye, glanced fully at him and smiled knowingly, as if to say: Only you and I speak or read English. Just one of life's little jokes. A few minutes later, the bus crammed full, Indians standing in the aisle breast to breast, ass to ass, the driver maneuvered the bus out of the station. The engine wheezed, as if had it smoked too many cigarettes and had emphysema, and the worn brakes squealed as they scraped against metal. At the scraping of the brakes, a fear gripped Richard. A fear so huge, he grew short of breath. He sat there trying to catch a breath and force it deep, but an empty choking cavity lay at the bottom of his lungs. He willed himself to relax. Just relax. But relaxing was impossible. The damn bus rattled and pitched, nearly dislodging him from his perch. And the Indians standing in the aisle brushed against him, or to steady their balance, touched his shoulder...each touch
made him cringe. He resolved to endure and dug his fingers into the vinyl seat. As the bus chugged along, the driving rain spanking all sides, windshield, windows, and roof, of this obstinate machine for daring to brave its onslaught, he was dimly aware that a man pushed through the aisle collecting fares. Doc paid for both of them. He was also aware of the bus stopping often to pick up Indians waiting alongside the road, and to discharge others. At some point the two men seated next to him edged past to the aisle and disembarked. He slid over to the window. Two Indian women plunked down on the seat and immediately began speaking in an Indian dialect. One of the women held a chicken, its beak stapled shut, its feet steelwired together. He stared out the window, thinking that the ride couldn't last much longer. Just have to wait it out as best he could. Occasionally the dark stupid eyes of the chicken would reflect at him in the window, and the woman holding the chicken would smile his way when she saw him staring back at the reflection. The poor animal looked miserable, and he vowed to never eat chicken again...a vow he knew he would never keep. The rain had petered out by the time they reached Santa Maria De Jesus. He was overjoyed to be shed of the bus. His nerves were frayed, and for the past twenty minutes he repeatedly had asked himself over and over: What the hell am I doing here?
The answer was that insanity led him here. There could be no other explanation. He shook away both question and answer and rushed into the nearest Tienda and purchased a pint of cheap Rum, immediately pried the cap off and took a good long swallow. The rum burned all the way down to the pit of his stomach. But he took another long swallow for good measure. The second swallow warmed the chill inside him. Feeling not quite so shaky now, he stepped outside and for a full minute enjoyed the crisp mountain air. Almost by accident, he happened to glance about and gazed upon Aqua. The sight of her took his breath away. For years she lay a far distance mystery; a sun lighted, moon darkened enchantress who comforted his moods. And he had come to accept her presence as much as he accepted the pillow on the bed at night behind his head. But standing there, close to her, near yet so very distant, her true beauty hit. And hard, much like an ocean gust. He didn't gaze upon her so much as she gazed upon him. During this moment every pore in his body was part of Aqua: his breath her breath, his arms her arms, his legs her legs and his eyes her eyes. In short he was her messenger, arriving from a place she could only gaze upon from a distance. All along she knew he would come to her one day, and sure enough she was right: here he was. "Magnificent huh," Doc whispered as if in a church.
He wasn't religious, and hadn't engaged in such beliefs since a child. But this was a church. A far older and more majestic church than mere man could build out of brick and mortar. And within the core of his soul, a place he hadn't visited in a long time, he understood why the old Indian woman had gazed upon Aqua while kneeling over her slain son. "Yes," he whispered back. "Yes," Doc said, "Well we better get moving. The village is a good halfhour hike." They began walking. What there was of Santa Maria De Jesus, dirt roads, bamboo fences, and huts, quickly petered out. Once outside Santa Maria De Jesus, they followed a narrow dirt path and soon found themselves surrounded by lush forest and deep underbrush. Despite his age, Doc was at home here and navigated the path as nimbly as Richard had earlier navigated the rain and the overhanging shingles. Contracting the warmth of the rum, the wet earth soaked Richard's shoes, and because of the altitude the air was chilly. He wished he had brought a jacket and mentioned this. "You should get out more," Doc replied, "Good for the heart...literally." Richard elected not to respond. Instead he drank some rum. As he drank, he maintained a slow but steady pace, and after a few minutes he asked Doc about the thought he had that had struck
him when Doc had mentioned taking the chicken bus instead of the Toyota. "You commented that it was best to take the chicken bus." "A trip of the tongue over words," he joked without breaking stride. "Yeah Doc. A slip a man with reason to be cautious would make. A man who didn't want to be followed, " he responded, taking a long pull from the bottle of rum, "So don't play it off. Don't play me for a fool. Or I turn around right here." "Sure," he replied, again without breaking stride, "I have contact with the guerrillas. I am a doctor. The Hippocratic oath and all such." "And that is all?" "It is enough. You will tell Sam now." Tell Sam, he wanted to shout: You old fool, Sam told me! "No," he replied, "Your business is yours. Just be careful." "I am a little old for careful." Falling silent, Doc quickened his pace, pulling a few paces ahead. Richard knew Doc pulled ahead to avoid conversation. So he didn't pursue the matter. Instead, he thought about Sam. And Doc. And himself. He was beginning to feel like the weak link in the middle of a chain: Doc on one end and Sam the other. He finished off the pint of rum and tossed the bottle at a tree. The bottle shattered. Doc glanced over his shoulder at the noise.
"Cheap Guatemalan bottle," he commented. Without comment, Doc continued walking.
The wet had soaked through to Richard's socks by the time they reached the village of Santa Pina. The forest, its trees and underbrush, had blocked the sun. But once out of the forest, the sun shone brightly and he welcomed its warmth. The village consisted of a few dozen huts. A stone well and washbasin lay in the center of the village. Away from the washbasin, four dirt paths veered away in a crisscross fashion toward each of the huts. A half dozen women, their arms stretching and pulling and pressing, scrubbed clothes at the basin. The women each wore Huipies with the village colors: a pattern of hand woven maze stalks and roses. He knew enough about the Indians and village life to understand that the pattern probably dated back a thousand years or more. Off by one of the huts, a few men sat crosslegged, talking and smoking. So this is what a mountain village is like, he managed to observe. But the observation lasted a second. At first their, his and Doc's, presence had gone unnoticed. But upon seeing them a toddler wailed and the women and men stared at them all at once.
Slowly the men stood and glared suspiciously, just as slowly the women dropped their laundry and inspected them, and the children ran to the women and clutched at their legs. Richard had always strictly dealt with the Indians on a servitude level: at restaurants, at Gus's, and with Celia. They often times were slow while serving food or a drink. But usually they were friendly. But not now. And he was taken aback by the hostility in their eyes. And was frightened, aware that he was on their ground now. "Do something Doc," he heard himself say. For a moment Doc was disgusted by the fear in Richard's voice and showed as much by shaking his head back and fourth. But he didn't vocalize this disgust. Instead he went over and shook the hands of the men. His lips moved. They glanced at Richard. Doc's lips moved again, his arm shaking above his head. All the men nodded at once. Richard took the nod to mean his presence was to be tolerated and was relieved, and consoled himself that he wasn't so much afraid as embarrassed at intruding on them. The lie felt hollow and he let it go when Doc returned. "Wait here. The woman, her name is Chusa, is being sent for." "They don't like my presence." "It's not that," he explained, "You are an unknown. They
fear the unknown." Perhaps the men feared the unknown, and the women also. But children were fearless and quickly left the protective circle of their mothers and flocked around Doc. Or perhaps they were not fearless. Perhaps they know Doc. Had seen him before. And were responding to him as a known friend. Whatever the case, not a single one of them was over five. They tugged at his trousers, squealing in an Indian dialect. Doc stooped, and taking hard candy from his pocket, answered each one by name while handing the child a piece of candy. As the child's hand closed around the candy, he or she scampered away like a dog with a prize bone and in the distance unwrapped the candy and popped it in their mouth. This went on for a long ten minutes. Watching Doc, the way his eyes lit up, the gentleness in his voice, the joy in handing the child the candy, and the all consuming smile as they ran gleefully away, Richard knew Doc, knew all his hidden secrets, knew why he talked of child birth, knew why he lived in a simple tin roofed hut: the Indian children, these children were his penance for botching the abortion years ago in Cleveland. Almost on cue, as the last child ran away screaming in joy, a woman approached them. Richard recognized her as the woman who had knelt over the slain boy. She, unlike the other women, wore black. She greeted Doc respectfully by bowing her head. He spoke
in an Indian dialect, gently, but firmly, and she raised her head at Richard. "I am Chusa," she said in Spanish. "I am Richard," he answered. "Yes, Ruth pointed you out," she replied. "I am sorry about your boy," he said for lack of better words to say. "Death," she whispered, her bronze face emotionless, "is part of life. Aqua gives. Aqua takes." "Yes," he replied, "And Aqua is returning your sons." "All my sons," she asked, her smooth bronze face suddenly filled with wrinkles. "No," he replied, realizing his mistake. "Your son in the army." "You can do this?" she asked, unbelieving. "I promise it." Whether by disbelief or out of joy, a joy demanding solitude and prayer, she turned and shuffled away. It wasn't until after Doc said his farewells and they were on their way back down Aqua that Doc spoke. His question seemed after the fact, or an idle thought. "You said her sons. One is dead, yes. But one is in the army and the other is with the gurreles. So? A slip?" "No," Richard lied, "Her son in the army. I can do nothing
about the dead son. Or the son who has joined the gurrelas. But the son in the army. When we return to Antigua, I want you to contact Ruth. Do not use my name. Just tell her to call Sam at the Embassy and give him the name of the boy who is in the army. Sam will arrange the rest. Have her call first thing tomorrow morning." Doc grunted, and he wasn't sure if the grunt meant he didn't believe him or because the air at this altitude was thin, making breathing difficult which in turn made talking difficult. A cold chilled Richard to the bone by the time they reached Santa Maria De Jesus. Although the warmth of a bus waited, he lingered outside a second before boarding and gazed at Aqua. She told him he had done well. He silently thanked her for a chance to meet her up close. Note: His shoes are wet; look forward and backward. endnote.
A dog tiredness settled over Richard the moment he boarded the bus: an unexplainable to him, letmelaymyheaddownand sleep tiredness. The tiredness chased away whatever inner fears he may have still harbored about chicken buses. In fact he really didn't give the bus a second thought and headed for a seat. Because the day was closing, instead of beginning, most of the Indians were leaving Antigua instead of going to, and the bus wasn't nearly as crowded as before and he shared a seat with another man. The driver thankfully had the heater going full blast and the bus was toasty. It was late and darkness had descended over Aqua. For a while he watched the thick forest outside the window while attempting to sort out where the truth lay in this mess, but the truth, like the trees outside the window, were all lines and shadows. At last he turned away from the window, thinking to close his eyes for just a few minutes. But right then the man sharing the seat held out his hand and introduced himself; Richard did
likewise and they engaged in conversation. The other man was a congenial man of medium build and mixed SpanishIndian blood who did most of the talking. His name was Marti. Traded in blankets. Visited the mountain villages buying hand wovenblankets which he in turn shipped back to the States. Paid a fair price of five dollars a blanket and sold them to a wholesaler for ten dollars, the wholesaler in turn sold the blankets for fifty dollars. "Ah, but this was life. I make a little profit and the wholesaler a big profit. But better a little profit, no?" He agreed, and started to add the obligatory few choice words about the unfairness of the situation, but Marti, and probably like most traveling salesmen a learned trait, kept right on talking. By the time the bus came to a halt at the bus terminal in Antigua, he had proudly shown Richard a fat weather beaten brown leather wallet stuffed full of pictures: his sons, four, daughters, three, and wives, two, and ancestors dating back two hundred years. The crowning glory of the lot was a badly faded picture of an Indian chief...but all Richard saw was a wizened old Indian looking about a hundred years old with a W.W. I One singleaction carbine cradled in his hands. The old man's name was Zeeee. Just Z with four E's. He fought with Poncho Villa. Many Guatemalan Indians had fought along side Poncho Villa. Did he, Richard, knew this? "No," he managed to admit.
"Is true," Marti explained, "Poncho had promised that when Mexico was free, he would gather a force of ten thousand and free Guatemala." He swiped a hand over his eyes, as if brushing away tears. "But Poncho lost and Zeeee, well Zeeee's heart died." "What of?" he foolishly asked. "A bullet." "Ah," Richard sympathetically said, "Sorry. But you have the picture." "Yes. I will take it to my grave. A remembrance. You have pictures? Of your family?" "No," he admitted. "A man needs family," he said. He started to reply but Marti abruptly stood, said goodbye and walked toward the front of the bus, then out to the waiting terminal. When Richard looked around, he saw that only Doc and he remained on the bus. "Let's go," he tiredly said. Doc stared strangely at him. "Let's go," he repeated. "Who were you talking to?" he asked, eyebrows arched. "The man next to me," he replied, growing irritated, "He sells blankets." "The person next to you got off quite some time ago in the middle of nowhere. And he was a she. An old shriveled Indian woman."
For a moment Richard was sure that Doc was pulling his leg, but Doc's face said otherwise. He blinked several times, rapidly, confused. At last he shook his head. "I must have dozed off. Dreaming. Now can we go!" "Sure, sure." They headed across the pavement of the darkened terminal toward Gus's. Along the terminal's periphery, where the grassy field lay, the flickering lights of coal cookfires glowed in the darkness. Hoping for a last customer or two, candles burned in the market stalls bordering the terminal, the shadows showing a sparse assortment of wares...mostly cheap bottles of shampoo, or bars of soap, or bags of peanuts; anything of real value had already been safely locked away to be returned to the wooden shelves in the first light of the morning. A handful of taxi drivers leaning on the bumpers of ancient cars hawked a ride into town. The usual dogs loitered nearby. At Gus's, Teresa stood behind the bar looking about as down as Richard had ever seen her. He heard voices above on the roof garden, young, speaking German. Students. A few people occupied the tables downstairs. Foster was the only customer at the bar. The moment Foster saw Doc, he challenged him to a game of chess. Doc looked at Richard, a glance that asked if he was suffering from posttraumatic, seekeroftruth depression. "Go play your game," he said. "A dream. What do you want? A
Freudian analysis? "Freud, he was a quack," he jested and like freshly kneaded dough on a bakers block, placed his rear on a stool and accepted the challenge. "I never resist a game of chess." "Usual," Teresa said to Richard. "No," he replied, "And give away the lostpuppydog look. Gus will return." "I know," she replied, but didn't really believe it. Not for a moment. Weary, he said a flurry of goodbyes and headed for his car and home. Evening had brought cooler air, and he felt the chill, especially his feet where his socks were still damp from walking to the village. Walking briskly, he longed for the warmth of home. It was only a little past seven, but already the streets were, except for an occasional student, or a drunken Indian who mumbled to himself, empty. Gone were the Indian vendors and the weekend tourists. He had reached the car when the empty pill bottle shifted position in his trousers pocket, biting the flesh. Tired, and just wanting to go home, he sighed, and crossed kitty corner to the pharmacy opposite the Plaza. The pharmacist knew him well and when he silently shoved the bottle across the counter top, didn't even bother to look at it, and instead reluctantly shook his head.
"What's the problem?" he asked, thinking he was out of Valium. "Orders from the police. You must have a prescription for these. I am sorry." "That is a prescription bottle," he pointed out, and none too kindly. "Please. Richard. I am but a small business. The police. I listen. I do not ask questions." "To me listen," he said, "Don't shit me. You don't even need a prescription for morphine in this country." "Richard. Please." "Please nothing. Fill the damn bottle up!" "Richard." "Fill it!" "Five. I do this because you are an old customer. But you tell no one. Richard, okay?" "Fill it!" he demanded. Richard, Please." "Fill it!" "Ten," he desperately countered. "Fine," He replied, too tired to argue. He was sure the pharmacist was mistaken and would straighten things out come morning. He was more than a little peeved when leaving the pharmacy,
but cursed out loud when he saw that he had left the top down on the Toyota. The vinyl seats were wet, and a puddle of water had collected around the brake peddle. The moment he started the car he put the top up, hunched his shoulders and revved the engine for a few minutes before turning on the heater. While revving the engine, he fished the pill bottle from his pocket and placed a full ten milligram Valium in his mouth and sucked on the pill, rather enjoying its bitterness. As he sat there he considered calling Crista. Just to say hello. Or to say: I love you. But this was Sunday. The Ambassador reserved Sundays for staying at home and reading over reports. He briefly supposed, were the Ambassador to answer, he could manufacture an excuse for calling. The Ambassador would of course see through the excuses. But even so, he would be courteous, part of his upperclass German upbringing. Or something. In the end he decided against it. He would call her tomorrow and take in lunch. As he drove toward home, a lukewarm blast of air warmed his feet. The warm air did little against the chill in his bones, and he looked forward to a hot cup of coffee.
The moment he entered the house the foul odor served as a grim reminder of how sick he had been earlier. The house, closed up all day, had the unmistakable odor of damp vomit. The odor disgusted him, and the fact that the odor was of his own doing further disgusted him. And he thought: I should go to the kitchen and clean this mess up. But as foul as the smell was, the encounter with the dead boy's mother had tired him, leaving a listless shell. That and the cold damp odor chilled so he visibly shook all over. He needed a drink, but the bourbon was in the kitchen and he couldn't face the kitchen just then. He sighed tiredly, wishing Celia were here, and went to the study and threw four logs along with a handful of kindling into the fireplace, balled a wad of old newspaper from the stack kept beside the fireplace and placed it between the kindling and the logs. Kitchen matches were stored in a sixinchlong stone box kept next to the newspapers and he took one from the box and lit it and tossed it on the wad of newspaper and waited until the flames licked outward. He rubbed
hands out at the fire and after a few minutes the warmth penetrated, chasing away the ghost. Feeling better, he stood and woodenly went to the kitchen to face a most unpleasant task. The odor here was intense, gagging. He quickly swallowed back, and opened up the windows. A breeze ruffled the curtains. He lit a burner and put the coffee pot on and afterwards set about cleaning the mess up. He used ammonia found under the sink and fifteen scrubbing minutes later the odor still lingered but faint and now mixed with ammonia. The work, mindless, satisfying, had served to put the day behind him. He filled a cup with half Wild Turkey and half coffee and carried the cup back to the study. He had a large oak roll top desk that he had picked up at an antique store in Guatemala City. He loved all the cubby holes it had. Little burrows to squirrel things away. Paper clips, pens and pencils, business cards, and other onceuseful but nowrelegatedtooblivion junk. He also loved the feel of the wood...a well used worn feeling indicating a long useful life. He set the cup next to the Saturday edition of the Miami Herald. It took the full cup of coffee and Wild Turkey to fully relax him. During this time he leafed through the newspaper. The stories were all too familiar and at last he set the paper aside and leaned back, hands clasped behind neck, and fixed Chusa in his mind's eye. She only wanted a son to go to school. He supposed this wasn't too much to ask.
Although the price was very high indeed. One son dead and another fighting for the guerrillas. But this is what Chusa wanted and this was what she would get. But what did Sam want? Doc? General Rosa? For a few minutes he drummed fingers atop the desk, thinking. He didn't think about Sam, or Doc. They would come later. He thought about the Wild Turkey in the kitchen. Mindful of the hangover this morning, he knew he should leave the bourbon be. Just take a night off from drinking. But he muttered, the hell with it, and abruptly got up and went to the kitchen and returned with the bottle of Wild Turkey. He filled the cup, set the bottle on the desk and leaned back and steered his thoughts long and hard toward the events of the weekend. Taking little sips from the cup, he kicked the events around, placing them all out of order. He realigned the pieces and played the scenario game and came up with a host of different combinations. Doc=guerrillas. Sam=C.I.A. Conclusion: Sam wants to trick Doc into leading him to Jorge. Or: Doc=guerrillas. Sam=C.I.A General Rosa=coup. Conclusion: Sam wants to stop General Rosa and sees using Jorge as the tool. Or: Doc=guerrillas. Sam=Benign arm of C.I.A. Conclusion: Sam truly wants to stick a rose bush up General Rosa's ass. Doc is a sentimental old fool. I=In dark. Conclusion: Sam+State intended on using his naïveté, and Doc just wanted to help out the Indians. Or: State was as much in the dark
as he was. Conclusion: Sam was on the level. Or: General Rosa, the crafty bastard, stood on the sidelines manipulating them like puppets on a string. Or, and or and or. He wasn't a spy, for crying out loud, and gave the game up. The possibilities were just too endless. But he had reached one firm conclusion. Since he was unsure of the game playing out, he intended on keeping Crista's and his departure a secret until the day they departed. He reasoned this was best for Crista, especially since she was the wife of the German Ambassador. If he was being used, he could not let General Rosa or Sam use her against him. Buoyed by at least one firm decision, he stood and went up to the roof. He had carried the cup along and sipped as he stared at Aqua. A brisk cold wind blew. The sky was clear and a full moon burned. Silver halos bathed Aqua's surface. The Aqua God, he thought, has the moon for a light bulb. The thought warmed him...inside. And he guessed it was because he now felt a part of Aqua. "Well Aqua God," he murmured, "It doesn't matter who is playing what game. I am getting out. Crista and me. We will miss you. And you me." He left it at that and went to the bathroom and popped a full ten milligram Valium in his mouth and went to bed. The sheet and the blanket blocked out all possibilities except sleep.
Richard wasn't good at these sort of things, spy things, but while he slept all seemed to sort itself out, and awoke Monday morning with a clear vision of what to do. Celia was quiet as she served him breakfast. He didn't mind, as his thoughts were elsewhere. An hour later he left for work. As he drove to the Embassy, for the first time in recent memory he wasn't annoyed by the chicken busses...and took this as a good sign that the right path lay before him. Once in his office, he went quickly through the stack of work that had piled up during his absence in Lima. Aside from a stack of mail, and the usual requests for information from various news organizations, there was a memo from Sam: Please stop by his office as soon as he arrived. Another memo outlined a press briefing scheduled for noon concerning Menchu and her winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Yet a third memo was from the British Embassy's Liaison to the Press, a Thomas Thornburg. He wanted to discuss Black. Could Richard be free about three? Please phone to confirm.
He consciously set all three memos aside and removed a white sheet of paper from the desk drawer. The paper was for his letter of resignation and bore the Embassy letterhead. During the ride to the Embassy he had given the resignation a great deal of thought. (For a few brief moments he had considered forgoing the required letter of resignation...but only briefly; after all, a certain decorum in such matters was expected and to be respected.) There were three strict procedures to follow when resigning. The first instructed all personnel to draft a letter outlining the reasons for resigning, the second instructed State be given two weeks' notice while also agreeing to help break the new man in...brief him on past, present, and future files, the third ordered all letters of resignation to be submitted through proper channels; which meant through Martha Chaps, the duty secretary, who in turn forwarded the letter to the proper office at the State Department in Washington. As much as it pained his conscience to do so he had to break with procedure. After all procedure was all well and good. But he wanted to keep the resignation a secret for as long as possible...from Sam, General Rosa, and the Ambassador. And if he followed procedure, Sam would know about the resignation within the hour, so would General Rosa and also the German Embassy. Retirements, or resignations, or outright dismissals traveled the Embassy gossip wire quickly. The Ambassador, an astute man, would
figure Crista was leaving with him. So would General Rosa. Sam was a given. So to buy time, he had decided to dispatch the letter of resignation via diplomatic pouch to the Government General Service Administration in Washington. A low level government drone would receive the letter. Read it, and layer through layer pass it upward until it reached the proper department at State. This method would take at least two weeks. By this time Crista and he would be settled in New York. He did feel guilty about not staying to break in the new man. Show him the little coffee shop a block away, the bakery up the block where wealthy Guatemalan women lounged hoping to meet and marry a foreigner, introducing him to the bar scene: the rat joints and the class joints. The letter took a good half hour and when it was finished, he reread it three times, inserting a few minor corrections. Lastly, he added the date. To give himself a few extra days, he predated it to the previous Friday. The final act was to place the letter in an envelope. He removed one from the middle desk drawer, folded the letter and placed it in the envelope. He paused a moment before sealing the envelope and stared at it as a man might stare past the past to the present to the future. He expected a collage of emotions; or as Shakespeare said: Parting is such sweet sorrow. But there was neither sweetness nor sorrow...just a willingness to seal the beastly thing and lay it
in the out basket on the desk for the mail boy to deliver to the mail room where the letter would be added to a diplomatic pouch headed for the States. He did this, quickly, efficiently, thoughtlessly. The moment he lay the letter in the out basket, a weight fell from his shoulders. Cheer filled his voice when he called Crista. He had expected the maid to answer, as was protocol, but Crista herself answered, a crisp and simple, "Yes?" She always answered like this and it annoyed him...usually. "Hello," he said. "Richard." "Yes, can you talk?" "Of course. The Ambassador left for the Palace to speak with the President." Although curious, he resisted an urge to question her about what the Ambassador and the President were meeting about. He had, so far, resisted using Crista as a pipeline to the German Embassy and didn't intend to begin now. "I wanted to phone you last night." "Richard love, you should have. I was alone." The addition of the word 'love,' used in conjunction with his name sent tingles up and down his spine. Always before when addressing him, she had used just, 'Richard.' "Sunday. You know."
"Yes. But yesterday was different. The Ambassador dined at the Palace. I feigned a headache and stayed home. I called you three times. But the house was empty. At eight I went to bed." "Alone," he joked. "Richard." "American humor." "Yes, American humor. I will understand never such. American humor." "Or fast foods." "No." "It is what America excels at," he replied, "fast foods and humor." "Fast foods, yes," she replied, "But humor, I am not so sure." "While in New York City, we will go see Saturday Night Live. You will change your mind." "Saturday night what?" "Never mind," he chuckled, "Speaking of food, can you break away for lunch?" "Yes, but why not come here? We can lunch on the balcony." By balcony she meant her bedroom. She and the Ambassador slept in separate bedrooms. Crista's bedroom had a balcony overlooking a garden. A Japanese gardener imported from Japan maintained the garden. Just Tulips. Red. Pink. White. And the
prized jet Black. He disliked dining on the balcony. Or afterwards in the bedroom making love on the king sized bed. Jealousy the reason. Although Crista and the Ambassador hadn't engaged in sexual relations in years, he figured they must have at one time, and had done so on the king sized bed. But he wanted to see her, and readily consented. "Make it a late lunch. Say two." "Yes, Richard love," she replied, ending the conversation as she had begun it. Short. Crisp. But with the word 'Love.' It was a little past ten. He decided to blow off the meeting with the British liaison to the press and called his office. Thornburg's secretary answered. Mr. Thornburg was out. He explained who he was and that he needed to reschedule the meeting for next week. She sounded disappointed. Mr. Thornburg was so looking forward to discussing the Black issue. (Voice official, high British accent accenting the importance.) Could he not reconsider? (Cajoling.) Maybe squeeze him in. (A slight hesitation at the word squeeze, as if she was imagining Thornburg squeezing into her...and since he, Richard, knew they were lovers?) Just a few moments. (Oh, Thomas Dear, I simply begged the poor man until he consented. Oh, Thomas, I even used the word squeezed. I was thinking about us...a proper ear to cheek blush.) "No." "Oh," she replied, typical British resignation in her voice,
"I guess next Monday at noon it will be. Thank you very much and goodbye." As he went to Sam's office, he inwardly chuckled at the conversation. Partly because she was so obvious, and partly because he disliked Thornburg. Thornburg was so god dam proper, GrahamGreencharacter British that dealing with him was akin to fondling a starched collar...and just the thought chapped Richard's hands. He found Sam sitting at his desk staring at the door. He had entered without knocking, and at first Sam failed to notice. When he did so, his eyes blinked trice, doing a triple take. "Woolgathering," he said by way of explanation. "You're wearing a polyester shirt," Richard joked. "Funny. Very Funny." "American humor," he replied. "No shit." "No shit." "Ruth called me," he said, "She is the reason I was woolgathering." "And?" he asked. And before Sam answered, Richard rallied all his years of observation as a journalist...minimal as they were...and studied him. The other night they were drunk. Booze stimulated the conversation. Conversation stimulated by booze is often forgotten
the next day. "I set the wheels in motion," was all he said. "Oh," he replied, disappointed. If Sam hid behind a veil of secrecy or a hidden agenda, he failed to detect it. And at this failure that there was disappointment in his voice, at least to him, was evident. "You want to know about Doc?" Richard asked "Not now. Ruth and Doc can keep," he replied, "We have a larger problem. Menchu is in Guatemala City. Flew in this morning. Black is complaining about interference from General Rosa. Amnesty International has scheduled a rally at the Palace against the Bernard verdict. State wants a complete analysis of the situation and wants it yesterday." "Than we have little time to waste," Richard replied, "Some fool scheduled a press briefing for noon." He nodded, "I know. The Ambassador's secretary scheduled it before I had a chance to intervene. Wants us to spin control Menchu. Shouldn't be too difficult. Menchu is hot...now. Bernard. Black. They are yesterday's news." "Thornburg is pressing for a meeting." "Fuck the pretentious bastard," he replied sourly. Richard's sentiments exactly. But he didn't say this. Instead he said, "General Rosa's special forces were all over Antigua Sunday."
"Shit," he murmured, "What the hell is the bastard up to? A coup? Or a crackdown on the Indians?" He shrugged, "We better find out. The last communiqué to State was obviously inconclusive." "I sent out an update last night. Should cover things for a few days anyway, at least until we have time to figure out what the hell is happening. I have feelers out. Give them a day or two." For a moment Richard considered sharing his observation yesterday while with Doc. That General Rosa was planning a crack down on the Indians. But was unsure now. Besides Menchu occupied the spotlight for the moment and for the next hour and a half they discussed how best to deal with her. Sam removed a bottle of Jack Daniel's from his desk and two glasses. Gently sipping on the whiskey, they lounged across from each other, legs crossed. To recognize her and the Peace Prize was saying that the U.S. State Department was willing to legitimize her cause. On the other hand, to completely disregard the award, went against one of the most prestigious awards in the world. Also against the claim of atrocities committed by the Guatemalan government. They both knew well enough that these two views represented opposite extremes. They had to find a middle ground where State wasn't seen as siding with Menchu or the government. About ten minutes before the press conference, they had managed to explore every
possible avenue, each one leading back to a choice between the two extremes. "Fuck it," Sam exploded in exasperation, "Just flow with the questions. We will estimate damage control later and then attempt to smooth over any hurt feelings." "Shit," he replied, just as exasperated, "Black, yes. Even Bernard. But Rigoberta Menchu? The press will eat me alive. Rigoberta Menchu is a heroine. She represents freedom for the Indians. She is a lone woman, a woman of color, fighting against four hundred years of Spanish persecution. I can't spin control such a force. State won't like this." "Fuck State! Fuck Rosa! Fuck em all! Just do the best you can do. Give the press what they want. Rosa is killing the Indians. Has been doing so for years. Give it to them. Just lay the whole mess out." Much to Richard's surprise, Sam stormed past him and out of the office. He expected Sam to return shortly and sat sipping the drink. When the seconds passed all too quickly, he found himself involuntarily staring at the office door. He waited a full five minutes before realizing Sam wasn't returning anytime soon, and that he had to face the press alone. A part of him dreaded the prospect of facing them. A few were intelligent people who were aware of the politics involved. But most were kin to piranha, and would gladly eat him alive.
But he could handle the press. That was his job. It was Sam who worried him. He mentally reworked his earlier assessment of Sam. Sam was on the level. This was no longer a game between State and Guatemala, nor between General Rosa and the Indians; but between Sam and General Rosa. Before leaving the office, he left a note on Sam's desk asking him to stop by his office as soon as possible.
All during lunch Crista discussed, like a child, their elopement, as she jubilantly had christened it. New York City was the perfect place to begin a new life. She'd pack a single valise. A small one, just large enough to hold a few dresses, underclothing, and toilettes. Outside on the street a taxi would sit waiting for their escape to the airport. The word escape rolled nicely off her tongue, and she liked its sound and invoked it often. Escape the Embassy, escape the drudgery, escape the role of host, escape the woman on the pedestal. This new Crista, carefree and ethereal, was so unlike her that at first Richard had preached caution. But soon her ardor infected him, and he too became caught up in planning their escape. He would pack very little. They could purchase new clothing in New York City. Yes, she exclaimed, new clothing for a new life. Yes, she exclaimed again, new clothing for a new life. That was when she stood and glided across the balcony to the bedroom, and as if riding on air, to the bed. Slowly her clothes tumbled down around
her ankles until only the white sheen of her panties shone against her skin. Her nipples pointed and hard, throbbed. She gently commanded, "Come to bed my love." Not unexpectedly, he grew aroused. But it wasn't just her nakedness that aroused him. He had seen her naked many times before, and her body had become more familiar to him than his own. There was a tension about her, a passion that had been absent until now. A wild, free passion. A caged bird now uncaged and flying high...testing the newfound heights of her freedom. And he managed to think: so unlike the old Crista, before passion won out over such thinking and he went over to her. "Lay still, my love," she declared. She rose up on her knees, face bearing down, tongue trapped passionately between her lips. Slowly, button by button, she undid his shirt and spread it open laying his chest bare. She ran her hands down his chest, gently scraping her nails across the skin. When she reached the clasp on his trousers, she unbuttoned it, then teased the zipper down. He was sure she intended on sucking on him and, breath held, waited. But she teasingly paused for a long moment. Then smiled wickedly and rolled the trouser and underpants down, bunching both up around his shoes. For a moment she slid her mouth over his stiff cock. He lay still expecting more of the same, but she straightened up and reached one hand behind her and tore a hole in her panties...and the
sound was like a piece of paper tearing in a silent prayer laden church. She placed both hands on her buttocks and lowered herself until his cock rested against the warm folds of her ass. "Fuck me Richard my love," she hoarsely whispered, "Fuck me there like before." Despite his inflamed passion, he hesitated. "You puritan bastard!" She prodded in German," Fuck me! Fuck me!" The woman above him unfamiliar. A stranger. And for a second he longed for the old Crista, crisp, cool, in control. But she did command, and she plunged down instantly breaking through. An animal cry of pain...painful pleasure escaped her lips. "Plunge deeper Richard Love," she murmured and leaned forward so the nipples of her breast lightly brushed against his chest. "Plunge my love." Soon emotion overtook reluctance and he thrust, driving deep, her passionate cries fueling each renewed thrust.
It was half past four by the time Richard returned to the office at the Embassy. If he expected to accomplish any work after the passion between him and Crista, he was sadly mistaken. Her smell loitered around him: he tasted and breathed her. And their escape crowded his thoughts. Menchu, Bernard, Black, all lay in the background. Finally in disgust, he left the office. He stopped at Sam's office and saw the note he had left earlier still on the desk. The note laying there broke the grip Crista had over his thoughts. The note indicated that Sam hadn't returned since storming out of the office. To shrug off work like a slacker was uncharacteristic. Sam usually burned the midnight oil, dissecting every scrap of information and adding two plus two or subtracting four from six...in short siphoning off the most obscure meaning or intent. Worried, he left the Embassy and went to the rear of the compound where the Embassy apartments were. He knocked on Sam's door. No response. He knocked again, this time hard enough to send a tingle of pain though his knuckles. Still no response. He
tried the door and as expected found it open. Sam never locked it, saw no reason to. The Embassy was a heavily guarded fortress. He went from room to room. Everything was in order except Sam wasn't there. There were several haunts that Sam frequented in Guatemala City, but the most likely was the European Bar. The bar was a magnet for mercenaries, soldiers of fortune and Embassy security personnel. The bar also served as a sieve for information. Sam maintained contacts and met them there. He considered going to the bar, but quickly decided against this. Sam obviously wanted to be alone or would have returned to the office or at the very least called and left a message for him. By the time he left the Embassy, rain battered the roads. He expected to be home within the hour, but got trapped behind a pair of chicken buses that crawled along mindless of him. He followed along behind them, thoughts occupied by Sam and Crista. Almost suddenly overnight they appeared like strangers. Crista, cool calm Crista had transformed; to be sure she remained cool, but now with abandon...a cool, precise abandon. A contradiction in terms, he knew. But true nevertheless. The only reason he could conjure up for this radical departure was the impending escape from life spent as a trophy. As for Sam. He was baffled, he had to admit. Was Sam losing it as he himself was? Was Sam playing a game? He wished he knew. But did he really? He
wondered. Did he care? Soon he was out. He was gone. So what did it matter if Sam was playing a game or was losing it? "Because something is in the air and I need to know," he said aloud in exasperation, and pounded on the horn at the buses, "Damn it I need to know! It is my job to know." Or was it because Sam was a friend? God, he didn't know. But he had enough of thinking and following behind the chicken buses and made a move to pass them. The rain belted down and the drivers in anger or annoyance flashed their high beams at him. He noticed not without satisfaction that after flashing his high beams the headlights on the bus on the right went out entirely. Probably a blown fuse, he thought. The rain beat down harder than ever by the time he arrived at home. As usual Celia stood at the carport waiting. Muddy water splashed at her feet. He pulled in and shut down the engine. "Lt. Oscar waits in the study," she said right off. Although he was surprised by this, he nodded as if he had expected him. "Shall I hold supper?" "Yes," he replied, "But bring me a drink. One for the Lt. also." "And Sam called. He will be at Gus's. He will wait." At this he was unable to hide surprise, and Celia smiled.
Something she rarely did around him. He shook his head at her and grinned and went to the study. A fire raged in the fireplace. Oscar sat on the chair at the desk, his legs crossed, a cigarette dangling from his lips, his head tilted toward the fire to one side in thought. "Better watch you don't singe your mustache," he joked. The Lt. tilted his head toward Richard. "American humor?" "No," he replied, "Russian." "Funny. Russians funny. Yes." "They used to be loads of fun," he replied, "But things change. No?" "Yes. Things change. Except in Guatemala. Here things stay the same always." "So you've told me many times," he replied, "What brings you out on a night like this?" The explanation waited while Celia entered carrying a tray. She handed each of them a glass, paying a little extra courtesy to Lt. Oscar. After she departed, the Lt. mentioned he knew her family. "Fine girl. Very religious. Good thing she worked for Richard. Other gringos, you know...use their maids. Both gringo women and men. The stories I could tell. Curl your hair." "Lt. Oscar," he interrupted, "This is all well and nice. But you didn't come here in the pouring rain to talk about Celia and her family."
"No. I am on my way home and decided to pay you a visit. Such an esteemed citizen." "Lt. I am not on your route home. You live completely on the other side of town. Or did you forget?" "You see through me, no," he said, furling five fingers in the air, "You gringos are too smart for old Oscar." "Smart, probably no, impatient, yes." "Yes impatient." He straightened up in the chair and paused to sip on his drink. "I really am on my way home. Truth. On my deceased mother's grave. I had business in Santa Maria De Jesus." The Lt. paused, and laying deep in those dark eyes Richard saw, or thought he saw, him gauging his reaction. He lazily sipped the drink, thinking two can play this game. "It's a little village on the slopes of Aqua," The Lt. explained, smiling slightly, "Probably never had an occasion to visit it?" "I visited there on Sunday," he replied, "I've heard for a long time how the weavers there are the finest crafts people in all Guatemala. Thought it was time I saw for myself. Why leave all the fun to the tourists?" He shrugged indifferently. "I can't speak for the tourists. My visit, police business. A woman murdered by her husband. Not fun. No. He hacked her to death. The husband used his prize cane cutting machete. The village, very small and poor, has only one
police officer. The fool had arrested the husband the previous night for hitting his wife. You know we never do this here in Guatemala. We never arrest a man for hitting his wife. Not the Guatemalan way. So I asked the fool officer why he arrested the man for hitting his wife. You know what he says?" He shrugged, sure he soon would. "As you know the movie channels are gone, but CNN remains and in Spanish no less. The fool officer never watched CNN in his life. He always watched a movie when returning home at night...even though they were in English and he didn't understand a word. But no more movies. So to keep from listening to his wife complain, the fool officer takes to watching CNN. He hears a story about a town in the United States, Madison, Wisconsin. Know where it is?" "Yes. In the Midwest." "Good. I don't know this and the fool officer doesn't know this. But the news story is about how the police in this town, Madison, arrested men whenever they so much as yell at their wife. The announcer calls this progressive law enforcement. So the fool officer takes out a worn EnglishSpanish dictionary he had confiscated off an American student and looks up the word 'progressive.' The fool likes the meaning of the word. He wants to be progressive, like the police in Madison. So he arrested the man for hitting his wife."
The Lt. shook his head in disbelief. "The next day when the man is released, he goes home. He is angry. His machismo is wounded. His friends laugh at him. He gets drunk and hacks his wife to death. So now there is a family without mother or father. Had this fool officer just let matters be, the next morning the man would have apologized to his wife and gone to work. There is a lesson here, no?" Knowing full well what he meant, Richard replied, "You shouldn't watch television." "More Russian humor!" "No," he dryly answered. "Sorry." "Yes you do see," he replied and leaned forward and fixed his dark eyes on him. "To become involved is stupid. Like the C.I.A. in El Salvador. Here." "Sam is the Embassy information officer," he automatically replied and knew straight away he had screwed up. But he told himself the slip didn't matter. Lt. Oscar knew. General Rosa knew. It was just a game they all played. "Yes, well, I must go. The wife. She worries so when I am late. Besides Sam waits for you at Gus's. Gus flew to the States." He stood, gave the curled ends of his mustache a twirl, and smiled. "Why?" "Gus has his reasons." "Yes. By the way. Chimmaltenango."
"What?" "Go to Chimmaltenango for your prescription. The pharmacists in Antigua now must file with the police all prescriptions for dangerous pharmaceutical drugs. The town is only a half hour by car." "Why?" He shook his head sadly, "Our youth are being corrupted. The Central Plaza. The park. Much drugs sold there." He wanted to say bullshit, but held back. The Lt, in his way, was doing him a favor. "I'll do that." "Good. What you do is your business. And thank you for the drink and the conversation. I hope we understand each other better. I have nothing against you. I like you. You are the only Embassy person who chooses to live in Antigua. The others, Antigua not good enough for them. But this is my town and I want a peaceful town. You understand?" He did and said so. As the Lt. left, shuffling, and far more shrunken than his five feet two, he felt sorry for him. The Lt. truly loved Antigua and wanted it to thrive. But he was caught between a rock and a hard place. And he understood this because the Lt. had cleared up a few things for him. General Rosa, a creature of habit, either used the guerrillas or drugs as an excuse to take control of a town. General Rosa and his special forces now controlled Antigua.
The rain had stopped by the time Richard left for Gus's to meet Sam. He drove slow, methodical, searching for the presence of General Rosa's special forces. But it was well after nine and the streets held nothing but a few students and drunken stragglers. The armory, usually bustling with soldiers at all hours, appeared to be at ease. A single soldier stood out front, his carbine lazily cradled in his arms. He yawned. The street lamps in the park were off, casting the trees and shrubbery in ominous shadows. Even the bus station was its usual self. Dogs scrounged for food. Tinny American music blared from the Tiendas. This calmness surprised him and he wondered more than ever what General Rosa was up to. At Gus's he parked behind Sam's Mercedes. From the speakers a bluesy big band played softly enough to allow conversation without shouting. Although it was Monday, an off day for bars in Antigua, and the world for that matter, it seemed like most of the regulars, Alexia, Foster, Sam, Doc, and John and Terry had gathered shoulder to shoulder around the bar. They all appeared
subdued, especially Teresa. She wore a long face, bottom lip slack, eyes dull. A few of the tables were occupied by German tourists. But the subdued atmosphere at the bar had affected them as well and they spoke in almost a hushed whisper. The lights upstairs were dark, indicating the roof garden was closed. The lone empty stool at the bar rested next to Alexia, and he sat on it. "Celebration?" he quipped. "American humor?" Alexia stated. "Something like that!" he testily answered, growing tired of the question. "Sorry," she replied. "No need," he assured. "American honesty," she joked. "A question?" "Bad night," she explained. He leaned across the bar and stared at everybody at once. "Somebody want to explain the merry mood?" "The military," Doc declared, "have relocated all the Indian peddlers to the Convento de las Capuchinas. Chain gangs from the city prison have begun tearing the Central Plaza Park apart. They have already removed the beautiful old concrete benches, not to mention cutting down a dozen or so trees." He muttered, "So that's why the park was dark." Then he
said, "Already?" "Imagine it," Foster replied. He tried to, but at first it was unimaginable. Just getting an answer to a yes or no question from a bureaucrat in Guatemala took a month. But he quickly regained his senses. This was General Rosa's doing...only he had such power. And he joined them, subdued yes, but very baffled by the turn in events. Teresa set a drink in front of him and he took a few thoughtful sips. The Convento de las Capuchinas was a hulking, roofless shell that had been all but destroyed by an eighteen century earthquake. All that remained were the stone walls and underbrush. Oddly, it was an ideal location for the Indian peddlers. The Convento de las Capuchinas was located on the corner of 2 Calle Oriente and 2a Avenida Norte; which was midway between the bus terminal and the Central Plaza. The stretch between the two served as the main tourist thoroughfare; restaurants, tiendas and shops filled the area. And had anybody but General Rosa instigated the affair, he would have applauded him. The location was ideal for the Indian peddlers who couldn't afford a shop of their own. But instead of applauding the move, he shook his head: What the hell is General Rosa up to? "I hate this," Foster commented, "The park is beautiful. The benches over two hundred years old. Why change it?" From Foster's idle comment, a heated conversation ensued.
Soon Doc, and Alexia joined in. The park was beautiful. The Plaza attracted people from all over Guatemala. The conversation moved from 'why' to who orchestrated the change, and the responsible parties ranged from Lt. Oscar to the mayor, to the army. He motioned to Sam, pointing at an empty table. Sam nodded and picked up his glass and followed. The bitching had reached such a crescendo they were not missed. The moment they were seated, he leaned close to Sam. "What happened to you this afternoon?" "Overload," he explained. "Like I said earlier, I had sent out the fucking update to State when you told me about General Rosa's special forces patrolling Antigua on Sunday. I just burned out trying to figure out why. Menchu. Bernard. Black. I hit the streets, stopping at every watering hole where information is passed about. I even stopped at the University. Zip all around. Now this. It's all too much. It just doesn't figure. General Rosa is doing the Indians a favor." Richard agreed, and added frankly, "Are you on a vendetta against General Rosa?" Sam reacted as if he had socked him in the face. His head shot back, and his eyes clouded over, as if filled by pain, or anger or both. "You think I bullshitted you the other night? Just booze talking? Using you to get at General Rosa? Is this it?" No. Yes. Fear. I am afraid, Richard thought. He seemed to be
always afraid now...and could remember a time when he wasn't way back..."Well, yeah, the thought had vaguely crossed my mind," he admitted. "We call it a draw," he murmured. "We give the woman one son and let the other take his chances." He had spoken into the table, but now he lifted his head and faced Richard. Hard. Cold. Unfeeling. "I could hate you." His words hit Richard hard. Hard as Richard's had hit him. And for a long moment he stared at his glass. Teresa had lousy timing. She changed the tape and put on Andes flute music. Usually the simplicity of the music calmed him. But the whistling flutes and the hard driving drums seeped into his soul, sending emotions asunder. He saw the boy lying on the pavement. Listened to the mother thank him for saving her son. "Don't," he defensively said. He held a hand midway up. "I..." "You what!" "Apologize." "Me too," Sam said. "We go for the other son. Agreed?" "No more bullshit?" "Just the boy. No bullshit." "You won't back out?" Breath held, Richard sat motionless.
"I retract that," he said. "Fine." "You talk to Doc?" "Obviously I talked to him," he snapped, "Otherwise Ruth wouldn't have called you." "Perhaps we better call it off," Sam expressed. "No," he declared, "I talked to Doc but in the way you meant, no. But your assessment on him is correct. He knows the guerrillas." He explained the ride to Santa Maria De Jesus. The onward walk to Pina. And the trip back down and his observations. He only omitted the rather strange conversation with the blanket trader. Sam listened attentively, saving observations or questions for later. He ended with, "If we know about Doc, General Rosa certainly knows." "Of course," Sam replied. "General Rosa hasn't arrested him. Why?" "It's a mystery to me. And State. Rumor says Doc has an angel placed high in the government. A very important man." "How do you know this?" "A file exists on Doc. The file goes back a long way. But there's no mention of who the angel is." "You've seen it?" "Sure. Part of my job. Seen your file also." Upon hearing this, a part of Richard wanted to be miffed,
but he had nothing to hide. Besides as Embassy information officer for the C.I.A., part of Sam's job entailed security clearance for all Embassy employees. But why Doc? As far as he knew the Embassy didn't routinely maintain a file on American citizens living in Guatemala. So he asked. "Oh no," Sam replied, holding up a pausing finger, "I had nothing to do with it. My predecessor, Bush. Bush held the post for almost twenty years and came from the old school and saw spooks in his sleep. He maintained a file on every permanent foreign resident. Most were outdated, the people dead or moved on, and I destroyed them. Others I destroyed because although they still lived in Guatemala, the files were, well, filled with silly stuff. But Doc. Now there is an interesting file. You know why he came here of course. The abortion. And after going to the village with him, you figured why he's always talking about child birth and lives in a tin roofed hut on the outskirts of town. Lives alone too. Has for thirty years. But when he first arrived here he was young, and as such had carnal desires. Once a week he went to the local bordello and satisfied these desires. Always chose the same girl. An Indian girl. She became pregnant. The baby could have been any john's. But Doc, the guilt over the abortion raging within him, became convinced, the file says obsessed, that he was the father. To make a long story short, he delivered the baby...a boy. The girl, the mother, barely fourteen,
hemorrhaged. Doc wanted to perform a blood transfusion, but, well she died. He blamed himself...but thirty years ago in Guatemala there wasn't even a blood bank. Anyway, Doc wanted to raise the child but the girl's grandmother took the child and disappeared into the mountains." "Jesus," he muttered. "Yeah, bitch huh." "Explains a lot." "A hell of a lot." "Do you think he will help?" "If he trusts us. And there is no reason why he should." "Now?" "Later, at your house or his." A few more words were passed before they rejoined the others at the bar. Since they both worked at the U.S. Embassy, Richard expected a comment or two about what they were discussing alone, especially considering the nature of the conversation bandied about at the bar. But the debate on the Plaza raged, indicating their absence had gone unnoticed; except by Alexia, who passed him a questioning glance. As he reseated himself next to her, he said, "Embassy business." "Oh," she replied, "You weren't talking about me?" "German humor?" She laughed. A clean laugh. Real. Unimpeded by cynicism.
"Of course." "Are you still angry at Sam?" "About the other night? "Yes." "No. I thought it over. I have spent a year in Guatemala, long enough to know that the army and the police are here to create disorder, not solve it. Sam took the correct action. Farabundo is a bully. Bullies must always be stopped. So no I am not. And you?" Her maturity surprised him. He had assumed her to be about twentyfour and tried to remember if he had been as mature at twentyfour. No, he decided. properly." She swiveled her head and looked behind her at the street. He detected a wistfulness in her gaze and said as much. "Yes. I leave Guatemala in a week." He was taken aback by her statement. But there wasn't any reason why he should be. They only knew each other through Gus's, and although had shared a few drinks and conversation really knew very little about each other. "So your research is complete?" "Yes. I return home and write my thesis" "You will teach." "Oh no," she said, scrunching up her face, as Crista did, "Was. But I agree. Sam acted
"Yuck." What he said next escaped without forethought. "Parting is such sweet sorrow." "More sorrow then sweet," she replied, then shrugged, "I may not see you again." "Why?" he replied, surprised, "You said a week." "Yes I know," she answered, "But I want to spend a few days at the coast. Monterrico. Ever visited there?" He had not and admitted as much; wasn't even sure what part of Guatemala it was located in...but kept this to himself. "Very beautiful. And deserted. A place to think." "And when you return?" "Alvaro. My boyfriend. I will spend my last few days with him." So she wasn't seeing Sam, he immediately thought. He shook his head and thought how little he knew about her. She held out her hand and he shook it. Her fingers long, her clasp was firm. In case they never saw each other again, he wished her well. She did likewise. He was about to add, 'yes and,' but she excused herself and went to the bathroom. Foster took her spot. "I was just telling Sam that since you and him worked at the United States Embassy you should investigate this mess." His thoughts were on Crista and Alexia, and momentarily
confused, he asked, "What mess?" "The park. Wake up." A hard reproachful sting resounded in Foster's voice, and for a brief second the everpresent twinkle left his eyes. But only for a second. But during that second a meanspirited man sprang out. Richard had a moment to reflect on Foster's sad eyes of yesterday before the second passed and the happy instructive guru once again took up residence in Foster's eyes. Richard thought: People I have known for years are suddenly different. Or is it me? Or have I been blind all these years? "You and Sam carry influence." Foster said, cutting off Richard's thoughts. Richard motioned Teresa for a refill while appearing to mull the request over. "You're really serious about this?" "Darn right!" Teresa smiled at him as she filled his glass. "I never get to spend much time in the park," she commented, "What with the bar and Gus." "Nor does Foster," he commented in return. But the response was perfunctory. He watched Alexia come out of the bathroom. She saw Foster had occupied her stool, and took the same stool Foster had occupied a few minutes earlier. She tapped Sam on the shoulder. Teresa moved Alexia’s drink to where she sat. He supposed Alexia was saying goodbye to Sam.
"That's beside the point," Foster replied, "The Plaza, the park is beautiful. Why destroy it?" Things change, Richard wanted to say, but said instead, "I have never seen you so worked up before. Hell even losing the movie channels didn't bother you this much." "The destruction of flowers and trees do this to me," he replied. Before Richard could think of an answer, Doc rudely wedged between them. "Let's go to my place." "What's the rush?" he responded, annoyed at Doc. "I suggested it," Sam, leaning across the bar, said. "Think about what I said," Foster instructed. Richard, surprised by such a quick turn in events, absently nodded as one does when trapped. He finished the drink and stood. Foster stood and joined John and Terry. He reached over and touched Teresa's shoulder and told her to cheer up. Gus would return soon. She nodded, but the glum look on her face told another tale. Sam and Doc were at the door by this time and Doc called out to hurry up. By the time he reached the door they were on the sidewalk. He paused for a moment, unsure he wanted to go through with this.
A fight played out in front of a Tienda across from the bus station...a good three hundred feet from where Richard, Doc, and Sam stood. The two men, etched in the shadow from the light shining from the Tiendas, stood splayed legged while flinging fists at each other and shouting loud insults involving each others mothers and the street corner the mothers had worked on before conceiving the bastard child. They, Richard, Sam and Doc paid scant attention to the fight...they were a common occurrence...and instead discussed a problem of their own which involved the three cars. None of them wanted to leave their cars parked outside Gus's overnight. Doc said that the solution was simple. Each of them drive their own car. Richard dissented here and explained he wanted to stop at the Plaza and view the park and would meet them shortly at Doc's house. Indifferent, Doc shrugged, but Sam understood. Richard wanted time. And wanted to prove to himself that he was taking the correct path. Sam was right.
One by one they filed away. Doc's Ford Galaxy first, the car's worn shocks and springs swaying and bouncing on the cobblestones, Sam's Mercedes smoothly following. Richard sat, the Toyota idling, while waiting. A few minutes later he spun a Uturn and went up 4 Calle Poniente. He slowed to a crawl while going past the Armory. The same soldier stood outside, only this time the carbine rested against the Palace wall as did the soldier, and appeared asleep. Richard continued a slow crawl circling the Plaza. The usual dark shapes huddled in blankets slept under trees. It occurred to him that he was about to enter the park at night for the second time in as many days...more than he had done during the past several years. Snorting at the irony, he pulled over and shut the engine off and exited the car and went into the park itself. The darkness that earlier had from the confines of the car shielded the changes, faded, exposing gaping holes where trees used to root. Ruts also lay in the ground where the concert benches once sat. Startled by his presence, rats scurried searching for hiding places that were now gone. One particular rat, about the size of a large field mouse, scampered under a concert bench, saw the bench was gone and just rested its red eyes glowing up at him in puzzlement. He felt sorry for the rat. The shapeless figures wrapped in blankets would, come first light, track and catch the older of the rats, or the infirm too sick or weak to outrun a
larger, yet slower pursuer. A cook fire made out of thin branches would quickly be made and the only meat of the day or week or month enjoyed...he didn't know this for sure but had heard the stories. Although he never believed them, the stories were true. The morning light, he thought ruefully, returning to the car, would bring a moveable feast. The darkness all around, he sat in the confines and warmth of the car wondering what the hell General Rosa was up to. His thoughts worked way around to: And why should I care? Because I had promised an old Indian woman? Because Sam and I had made a deal? Because Sam and I were friends? The last thought wormed into him, and out of frustration he took the pill bottle from his pocket and sucked on a full ten milligram tablet. He sat there a while longer, thinking, dissecting, reasoning, adding...at last he viciously turned the key and the ignition caught. He shifted into first and headed for Doc's house.
Leisurely they had sipped on rum and discussed General Rosa and what his intentions were for about an hour when a bird, sounding like tiny pebbles, scampered over the tin roof. Sam and Richard sat on opposite ends of the bed, using the wall as a back rest. Sam's long lanky legs ran off the end of the bed with shoes almost touching the floor; he tilted his head in the direction of the noise. Doc rested on the oak chair, its back to the desk so he faced them. He held a bottle of rum steady in his hand, filled his glass, and set the bottle on the floor and checked the watch on his wrist, and nodded as if confirming an appointment. "Buzzard," he commented, "I leave scraps of meat out. Like clockwork he arrives at midnight." "A buzzard?" Richard asked. "Of course not," Doc chuckled, "It's a raven. I nicknamed him Buzzard. He first appeared about a week ago, such a racket it woke me. I came out to see what it was...nothing but darkness. So the next night like a peeper, I hid in the bushes and when he landed on the roof I trapped him in the beam of a flashlight. The
light momentarily hypnotized him, and he froze. A large black raven. I laughed and said, 'hey stupid, the only food on the roof is you.' A moment later, wits collected, large black wings an open cape, he glided away. But he returned the next night. So I began to leave a few scraps of meat on the roof for him. I guess he figured he had found a sucker." "You are a strange man," Richard remarked. Doc laughed at himself. A hearty laugh. When his laughter died down he nodded, "And Buzzard has." But you are a strange man, Richard thought, looking around at the years of accumulated clutter. While doing so, he looked back at how many times he had wondered why Doc chose to live like this. He now wondered why he hadn't seen the answer long ago. The plywood desk. The stacks of correspondence. The boxes filled with letters and notes from as far back as nineteen fifty. The answer had rested in all this. He had been too blind to see it. He caught a glimpse of Doc's yellow cagey eyes studying him from across the room. Penetrating eyes. Yellow penetrating eyes. And he suddenly knew that they all knew why they were there. Sam and him. And Doc too...those yellow cagey eyes of his eyes taking them in for the past hour weren't fooled for a moment. "You didn't take me up to Santa Maria De Jesus just to see the boy's mother. Did you, Doc?" he expressed. A skeptical smiled crossed his lips. "Would you really have
called out the Marines, Sam? Doc knowing about Farabundo detaining them surprised Richard. But only for a moment. Doc knew the Indians. The Indians knew everything that went on. "Farabundo will never know," Sam responded. "You know Sam," Doc announced, "I could never read you. When I first met you I thought: Sam doesn't seem at all like the C.I.A. type." "I am not. I am the Embassy information officer." "Sure. But indulge an old man, please. For the sake of the conversation." Sam nodded, but straightened upright from his half prone position. "For the sake of the conversation." "After a few months, I thought: Sam. A new breed of C.I.A. A few more months went by and I thought: No. Sam is too straight forward to be C.I.A. No bullshit in him." He wagged a thin finger in the air, drawing at it, as if creating his words, "My last assessment heartened me and became confirmed when due to the Bernard fiasco, the U.S. cut off all military aid." Doc tipped his glass at Sam. "Your doing, Sam, of course." "State's doing," Sam rebutted. Richard expected further from Sam, but he had said what he wanted to say and sat studying Doc. "Yes, yes, of course," Doc replied, "But nevertheless I
thought: At last the U.S. is leaving the peepers and paranoid seekers at home. But when Richard surprised me, first by confronting General Rosa...Richard is renowned for never becoming involved, one could even say he was the last of the, 'the Indians' problems are theirs and my problems are mine.' type. Well, Richard stunned me to say the least." "Doc," he said, "I am sitting right here. I am not a third person. Don't address me as such." "Quite right, Richard. Sorry. You, you dumfounded me when you asked to see the dead boy's mother. At first I thought that all the Valium you were taking had addled your brain." Richard's eyes did a slow roll toward the ceiling, as if to say: Are there no secrets? "No, Richard, there are not. Not in Guatemala. But as a Doctor, when you and Crista reach New York City, I suggest you withdraw slowly...Valium is a muscle relaxer and the heart is a muscle and sudden Valium deprivation can cause cardiac arrest." "Are Crista and I going to New York?" "Damn Indian maids. Talk talk talk...like colorful parrots." "Okay Doc," he coldly stated, "Story time is over. Get to it!" "I am," he said and placed a hand over his mouth and yawned. When the hand fell, he snatched the rum bottle from the floor and deftly rolled the chair over to the bed. He lay the bottle on the
floor and leaned so his elbows rested on the mattress. "So you, Richard, suddenly want to help. But do you say, 'have Ruth call you?' No. You say, 'have Ruth call Sam,' and give me a cockand bull story about how you don't want Ruth knowing it is you who is helping." He nodded, "And I almost bought it. I mean, it fit you. The man who never involves himself, involved himself by staying behind the scenes. Like I said, I almost bought it. But I thought on it for a bit. Sure you were angry at General Rosa for the little incident with the gun. And Crista, you and her running away. It fit. But it wasn't you. So it had to be Sam. So I asked myself what did Sam want? What did the C.I.A. want? To embarrass General Rosa? Sure. But yanking one Indian kid out of General Rosa's clutches...well not much of an embarrassment. So I was back where I started. A lot of questions and no answers. So you two tell me." "The problem," Sam said before I could speak, "is you're seeing spooks where there are none. You're right, Richard and I planned on springing the kid from the army. But State's out of the loop. It's just Richard and me. And we want to spring the other son also. The one who joined the guerrillas. And we want you to put us in contact with Jorge, the rebel leader for this region. That's what I am up to, Doc." "My God," Doc exclaimed, flabbergasted. "Surely you..." "Cut it out Doc," Sam coldly ordered. "You sat there and
boldly impressed us with your vault of little secrets and thoughts and also the breadth and width of your intellect. I am impressed, but don't in turn play me for an idiot." Doc gave an ugly smirk. "The file. I had heard there was one on me. That bastard Bush. Had spies everywhere." "You evade the question." Doc reached for the bottle. He held the bottle in midair, his eyes nestled on the floor: helpless, old, a very old man. "And if I say no? My resident visa is revoked. Sent back to the States. Or worse a Guatemalan prison. No, exiled to the States is worse. This is my home, these people my people." How something so simple had gone so badly confounded Richard. He said this. Doc looked up at him. "Simple? The C.I.A wants to destroy me. Simple. Yes. Simple." "Damn it Doc," Sam shouted and leapt off the bed, "I am going to tell you this once more. State is out of the loop. If they find out, it's my ass. Not yours. Nor Richard's...he's leaving for New York. But my ass. Now if you want to help, fine. If not just say so and that will be the end of it. You were all so damn fired up to help the one son. Well what about the other son? He's dead. Maybe not tomorrow, or the next day but eventually General Rosa's troops will line him up and shoot him. You know the statistics. Ninety percent of the rebel recruits are killed within the first six months."
Richard had to admire Doc's resiliency. A moment ago, the thought of his little world torn away had devastated him. But as he looked up at Sam, the old fire was back in his eyes. "Just for the sake of the argument?" "Like me and the C.I.A." "Well if I could reach Jorge, and I can't of course, but if I could why should he release the boy? What's in it for him?" Sam strode along the path of boxes to the makeshift desk and toyed with the edges of some papers there for a moment before picking one up. "To Jan Vine. Springfield, Illinois. Concerning The Child Project," Sam recited, reading while facing the desk. "Your sponsor child's name is: Michael Ruano. Father's occupation: Farmer. Monthly family income: $40.00. School: Studies in house. Grade: 1. Brothers and sisters: Nine. Home: Borrowed. Rooms: 1. Walls: Wood. Roof: Tin. Floor: Dirt. Water: Well. Waste: Outside. Lights: Candles. Kitchen: Rustic. And so on." When he turned, the paper held in his hand, a full broad smile covered his face. Doc looked pained. He still held the bottle of rum and Richard reached over and took it. Doc relinquished it without protest, his fingers going slack. Relegated to spectator, and relieved, Richard leaned back against the wall and watched the two of them. "I hear Jorge's an arrogant bastard. Machismo from head to
toe. Like General Rosa." "So they say," Doc replied. "Wants to be an important man." "He is," Doc proudly replied. "In the hills, yes. Little children. Young girls. He impresses these, but so does the Cadillac pimp and drug dealer in East Harlem." "Jorge doesn't sell drugs or women," Doc, head high, and voice hard and firm, angrily retorted. Sam shrugged. "Comparison. But the two, the pimp drug lord and Jorge long for the same thing...legitimacy" "And you can offer this," Doc cynically replied, "Only the State department or the C.I.A." Sam flung the paper aside and covered the distance between them in three steps. He leaned forward, resting his hands on the arms of Doc's chair. His face contorted, angry and hard. "Listen you pompous ass, in Guatemala I am the State Department!" At that very moment, Richard had taken a full swig from the rum and, realizing Sam's admission, almost choked. "So you really are the C.I.A," Doc stated back. "No. I said I am the State Department in Guatemala. The reports I send to Washington are taken as gospel. And I am tired of people thinking I am lying. You got that Doc? You hear me! You follow?"
"So many babies to deliver," Doc murmured, "So many. Did you know that sixty percent of Guatemala is under eighteen? So many babies. Sometimes ten a day. The dirt. The flies. The blood. The blood. I must go to bed. Tomorrow the babies will come. They always come. And the blood. The blood. So many babies." His body had slumped over, his murmuring head resting on the bed, the skin slack, pale, but still he murmured on about the babies. "Doc!" Richard said. He scooted to the foot of the bed and slid off to the floor and stood. "Doc!" "So many babies," he whispered, "Come back Tomorrow. Please. So many babies. And the dead ones. The umbilical cord, the life saving cord becomes entangled around their little necks and chokes life out of them. But still the blood. They struggle to live, but in the end only blood and a strangled, innocent, darkened, deathblack dead face. Go home now. Leave me. So many babies. Go home. So many babies. Go home. The blood. If you could only see the blood you would understand. The blood. Not red at all. Almost purple..." Doc's voice had fallen into a haunting whisper. And Sam and Richard fled the hut. It was nearly one in the morning and the air was so dark even the fan leaves on the banana trees were invisible. Their heads down partly to avoid brushing against leaves, and partly due to guilt and shame they followed the dirt
path to the front gate. Poco yelped along at their heels. A two byfour lay wedged against the gate to securely keep it shut. Disgusted, Sam kicked it away and opened the gate. Richard closed the gate behind them. The air, cool, and clean...both of them took in a long cleansing breath. Goodbyes. See you tomorrow at work. Goodnight. Have a good night. So long. They said none of these farewell greetings. They wordlessly entered their respective automobiles and drove away. Richard drove aimlessly for a while before going home. The picture of Doc muttering under his chin, his skin slack and pale, rode with him. He assured Doc he would be okay come morning. Not to worry. No harm would come to you or your papers or your babies or your hut...your life. Doc grunted, yes, yes, I am an old fool who worries too much. Richard told himself that saving one boy was enough. What more could he do? What more could anybody do? Doc agreed. It was well past two when the headlights sprayed across the house. Celia had left the light on in the car port. He tucked the car away for the night and went to the kitchen and fixed a drink. Drink in hand, he climbed the stairs to the roof. He positioned two chairs across from each other and stretched out as best he could. A chill was evident. At first he considered turning on the electric grate, but was too tired to move. It was just as well because the bourbon and the sight of Aqua soon warmed him.
He awoke to the first light stretching out like bunting over Aqua. His right side ached and half asleep, he tumbled more then walked down the stairs to the kitchen and sliced four oranges in half and hand squeezed the juice into a glass. Most of the juice spilled through his palms to the counter top. He gulped down the halffull glass and set it down in a puddle of orange juice. He trudged to the bathroom and ground a ten milligram Valium under his molars and went to the bedroom, fell on the bed and quickly slipped back asleep.
The clanging of Celia banging pots and pans in the kitchen woke Richard. He glanced at the clock on the night stand and through bleary eyes saw it read seven. The time seemed way out of proportion to the stiffness, joints painfully locked, thigh muscles charley horsed...things that came with sleeping ten or more hours. He looked at his left wrist, but the watch wasn't there, dimly remembered leaving it on the roof terrace, and called out to Celia for the time. "Noon," she yelled back. Power outage, he thought. "The power went out. Just returned," Celia yelled, confirming his thoughts. "I figured," he yelled back. "Miss Crista send boy with note," she yelled. "Bring it to me," he yelled back. "You want note you come out of the bedroom." Her refusal brought the first smile of the day. She never entered the bedroom while he was in it. Her religion preached
against such behavior. He got out of bed and went to the shower. As the water beaded over him, he thought about what Doc had stated the previous evening. "The damn Indian maids, talk talk talk...like colorful parrots." He found this difficult to believe about Celia, and dismissed the notion out of hand. She took her religion and her position as head of the house very seriously. There were many ways Doc could have learned about the Valium and about Crista and him leaving. And yes, the Indian maids talked, but Celia wasn't one of them. And finally and at last, as he went to the kitchen, thought: And what did it matter anyhow? "Do you want breakfast on the terrace?" Maybe it was visiting the Indian village. Or maybe it was because he had decided to leave Guatemala. He really didn't know himself. But whatever the reason, he looked at Celia in a new light. She stood at the stove, back to him. She wore a powder blue blouse and white skirt and her black hair fell almost to her waist. By western standards she wasn't attractive. She had bronze skin, smooth, and was short and plump, but this was the nature of most Indian woman...bronzed smooth skin and short and plump. The Indians seldom applied makeup or went on diets; their time was spent working leaving little time for such vain foolery. She knew him as well as anyone: habits...what time he ate supper, what day he holed up in the study, how to fix a drink
just the way he liked it, and more importantly his moods, when to walk softly, or when to stand firm; but he really knew little about her, her thoughts. He knew that she was nineteen, and looked fourteen. Worshiped God. Had so far remained unmarried. He also knew her family but only because she invited him to her house for Christmas dinner. A virtual feast of turkey and vegetables and home baked cake...a feast they had to work and save for all year to serve. Yes, Crista served one part of him, and Celia another. If only he could take them both to New York. "Yes, I will dine on the terrace." "Of course," she responded without turning from her chore. "I have already set the table. The note from Crista is there also. The electric grate is on." Of course he thought. He had never taken the trouble to sit down and spend a few moments just chatting with her and decided now was the time. "Dine with me." "You have a nice visit?" "Pardon me?" he replied. "Santa Maria De Jesus." At first he wondered how she knew. But of course, he thought, she had overheard Lt. Oscar the other day. He briefly reconsidered Doc's words. Quickly rejected them.
"Very." "I am sorry," she said. "But I cannot dine with you. It
would not be proper." "Just this once?" "No. Besides you want to know about the Indians. You are curious." "Yes." A soft sigh. "Go to church." "Celia." "It would do your soul good." "What would do my soul good is for you to take breakfast with me." "Is not proper." "Damn your proper." "No," she firmly responded. He knew better than to argue. As he went to the terrace, he consoled himself by wondering what kind of family Celia would work for next. He would, of course, write her a glowing reference and give her a hefty severance check. The sky over Aqua lay overcast and cloudy. He paid scant attention to Aqua or the threat of rain. Instead his eyes strayed to the folded piece of paper nestled between the salt and pepper shakers. A second later she wordlessly placed a plate on the table. She had cooked a cheese omelet and he spread the note
open, reading it while he ate. Dearest Richard: Although I long to stretch out, my head nestled deep on your chest, I have other obligations today. The Ambassador arranged an afternoon luncheon with the President and his wife. I am to attend. So in spirit I send these borrowed lines: How do I love thee Let me count the ways From the breath and width of my soul I love thee? Crista. The entire page was typewritten including her name, and he couldn't help but smiling at this. So Crista. Yet so unlike her. The old Crista would never send a poem. This Crista would...but with a touch of the old Crista. Perhaps he judged her too harshly. Love was a new and exciting experience for her. For him too, he reminded himself. And wondered how she found the new Richard. Did she find this person strange, yet at the same time similar; as he found her? He made a mental note to ask her. He reread her words, and was basking in their glow when the phone rang. It was Sam. He expected him to say: Why aren’t you here? All hell is breaking loose! "Are you okay?" Sam asked instead. "Actually yes," Richard replied, "I feel like Doc lifted the
responsibility of the other son from us. You?" "Angry. Just angry!" "Are you angry at me?" "You mean about you and Crista? No. I knew. Maids talk talk talk...as Doc so ineloquently put it. I figured you were playing it low key to keep the Ambassador from discovering." "I was," he half lied, "You think he knows?" "No. He doesn't hire Guatemalan maids. He imports his domestic help from either Japan or the Philippines. Crafty bastard. They only speak their own language. Consequently what goes on in the German Embassy stays right there. But sometimes craftiness works in reverse. No information comes out, but very little goes in...at least along the help grapevine." "So why are you angry?" he inquired. "Doc. So selfrighteous. Pisses me off. I wanted to save the other son. Without Doc's help...well fuck it." Although Sam couldn't see, Richard involuntarily shrugged, "Let it go. He's a crazy old coot. A likable crazy old coot. But a crazy old coot nevertheless." "I suppose," Sam replied, resignation in his voice. "Anything going on?" "Not really, he said, "Same old scenario. Menchu is yesterday's news. Ditto for Bernard. You know how it goes." He knew. Sam had a framed quote in his apartment clipped
from the 'Book Of Laughter,' by the Czech writer Milan Kundera. The quote went as so: "The Bloody massacre in Bangladesh quickly covered over the memory of the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, the assassination of Allenda drowned out the groans of Bangladesh, the war in the Sinai desert made the people forget Allenda, the Cambodian massacre made the people forget the Sinai, and so on and so on and so fourth until ultimately everyone lets everything be forgotten." Black ate Bernard, Menchu ate Black, and already all three were forgotten. He wondered if the Nobel committee knew this when year after year they awarded their grand Peace Prize. "So what's on the burner now?" "El Salvador. The village of El Mozote. The army. A mass grave. A fucking massacre. Over four hundred men, women and children and priests. Hands tied behind their backs. A single shot to the head. For years Reagan's State department insisted it never happened. Now State is pulling out all stops to damage control the situation. You know, the usual: that happened on the last watch. I don't know why State doesn't tell the truth and say they blew it. But as much as I hate to say it, gruesome as it may sound, thank God. Gives me breathing room to figure out what General Rosa is up too." "Gives us time," Richard replied. "Thanks," he answered, "But you're out of it. I intercepted
your resignation to State. As of now you're officially on leave until the final papers are processed. A going away wedding gift. Spend your time packing, kissing Crista, walking around. Enjoy. You earned it." The letter, note, poem from Crista lay before within touch. He thought: later I will call her and tell her we can leave right away. But for now Sam waited on the phone. Richard waited in his mind for something to say, the proper words, words to convey what he was feeling: words of regret, but something more...a few days ago, hell yesterday, he had distrusted Sam and now he realized a true friend lay on the other end of the phone. "Drinks all around tonight at Gus's. Gus should be back, glum as always. Be there by eight." His voice had grown husky and he pushed the disengage talk switch on the portable phone before Sam could respond.
Richard sat in the study drinking coffee. A bittersweet hollow rested where his heart lay. Yesterday he had rejoiced at the mere thought of leaving...and yesterday he was afraid and the day before that and... But today was different. Things change. My how things change. Such a marvel a day makes. The fear? Gone. The desire to leave, just scoop Crista up and run like hell? There...but. But his emotions were torn asunder at the thought of leaving his house and job and friends. Sad one moment, happy the next. Twice he caught his hand reaching for the phone to call Crista. A happy call. Joyous. Crista love, we can leave tomorrow. She would be overjoyed. Maybe even shout out. But she was at the Palace with the Ambassador. To keep from thinking, he busied himself. A halfdozen times he rummaged through the cubby holes in the rolltop desk. Each time he discovered a longforgotten, buried treasure. Memories, really. Little things that were once useful, but had become either obsolete or replaced by a new, improved version. A three yearold pocketsize phone book. Upon leafing through it he
discovered that most of the names and phone numbers written within had moved back to the States. A polished rock. When the desk had been delivered he had discovered the rock hidden away. For two years he had used the rock as a paperweight. He retired the rock when Crista, as a Christmas present, had presented him with a crystal paper weight. A few dozen knobby pencils. One broken fountain pen. A matchbox filled with paper clips. And other things. Many other things. Except for the rock, he dumped all the years of accumulated junk in the wire trash can next to the desk. In a rare moment of poetic license, he put the rock back in the hiding place where he had originally discovered it. The rock seemed to belong to the desk. And perhaps the next person who used the desk would discover it and use it as a paper weight. Perhaps after a while the person would receive a gift. A paper weight. Perhaps the person would put the rock back in its hiding place. Perhaps the next person who bought the desk would discover it and use it as a paper weight. Perhaps not. After a while he had to go, get the hell out of the room, the house. But go where? It was too early to meet Sam at Gus's. But he had to get out. Where? Anywhere. Just walk. Say a silent farewell to the town. He said goodbye to Celia and started walking. Briskly at first. A gringo, passing a bent over woman carrying firewood,
housewives slowwalking a toddler or two. Men buried beneath the hood of ancient rickety cars, the silent respectful passage of Mercedes. The orderly school children outfitted in blue shirts and slacks, or blue blouses and skirts. The crumbled ruins of churches, the tin huts, the stucco Haciendas. He slowed upon reaching the Central Plaza, then paused. The usual weekday activity buzzed on the sidewalks surrounding the Central Plaza. He crossed over to the park and headed for the center and the stone fountain. The darkness of the previous evening had shielded the extent of the changes and in the light of day he was appalled by the destruction. A good twenty percent of the trees were cut off at the trunk. The bushes surrounding the park were trimmed nearly clean of their overgrowth. The fountain, the smaller circles at the top cascading into larger and larger circles finally giving way to a pool were each in turn dry. The four bronze naked women whose breasts fed the fountain seemed rather sad. Perhaps the sculptured women were sad because the park lay void of the usual children selling handcrafts and shoe shine men. But dozens of Indian men had replaced the latter. The workers deftly hacked away using machetes at the remaining undergrowth surrounding the park's periphery. The work was hard, tedious, and hot as evidenced by the sweat pouring off their brows. At their sweat, he glanced up at the sky. The sky lay overcast and cloudy, as it had during breakfast, but the air was
hot, humid, sticky...indicating the change between seasons, late to be sure, was soon to arrive. The flies and mosquitoes seemed to sense the change also. They were bolder, less afraid and more numerous. Several times he involuntarily slapped at a mosquito or fly. Soon, he thought, if he wasn't leaving, he would be cursing them with every four letter word in his vocabulary. Then he thought of Doc. The coming black water. Hepatitis. Dysentery. He envied him...disease and death made up his life and without them Doc would have withered up and died long ago. As he stood there thinking about Doc, Ruth walked up and said hello. She appeared older than the last time he had seen her: her face was hollow as if she hadn't slept much, and a gray tiredness ringed her eyes. "You look tired," he commented. "Yes," she replied, "I haven't felt up to snuff the past few days." She attempted a smile, bright for a second before flickering out. "First time I've seen a person killed. Seen deaths. Natural causes. Many deaths. But never a person murdered. Worst of all is the silence. You know? The silence. But I promised you. I did go to confession though. My faith allows this. This was okay wasn't it?" "Ruth," he said, "There is nothing you could, can do. But yes it was okay. And I understand the silence. To quote Doc: Death is silence."
Ruth said, "I wanted to thank you." "No need." "Yes, I wanted to thank you. And apologize. You see I blamed you at first. Or I tried to. But in the end the blame lay at my feet. Had I not convinced Chusa to come to town, none of this would have happened. You ever read Don Quixote?" "Long time ago in school." "You remember the part where Don Quixote happens across a master whipping his servant and stops the master? Don Quixote is so proud. He had done a good deed. And he rides away, head high...thinking he is now a true Knight. But as soon as Don Quixote is out of eye's range, the master beats the servant harder." "Vaguely," he lied. "I felt so much like Don Quixote..." There are no knights, he wanted to say, but sensing she needed a release, remained silent. "...Like a knight. Can women be knights? I don't remember. But probably not. knighthood sounds so male. Anyway, I wanted to be. But the master, you can't win over a master...that is why he is the master." "You saved one son." "Oh yes, I know this now. But at the time. At the time! Now I know. The Father told me so."
For lack of anything else to say, he said, "It is the Guatemalan way." "I wanted to thank you," she replied and shuffled away. As he watched her, the arthritic movements, he got the impression that she hadn't heard a word he had said. But he really hadn't said anything worth hearing, so what did it matter? She had confessed, once in church and now to him. Her soul was cleansed. All forgiven. He crossed the street. The construction in the park had not deterred the vendors who sold food cooked over makeshift stoves filled with burning embers of coal, or the men who, cigarettes lined up on cardboard boxes, sold them one at a time for twenty five centavos. Out of habit, he looked for General Rosa's men, but they were nowhere to be seen. He did see Lt. Oscar. He stood within the shadows of the door to the police station. The Lt. watched the men work in the park, his handlebar mustache looked frayed, the upturned ends listing in the wrong direction. As if reading Richard's thoughts, the Lt. raised two fingers on both hands and gave the ends a neat twist, and once again the ends twirled upward. There, Richard thought, is a proper handlebar mustache. He continued walking aimlessly around the square, searching for a familiar face: Foster, John, Terry, anybody; spend a second and say hello and exchange gossip. Tell them about him and
Crista...and why not, what did it matter now? But nobody. But of course they had things to do, he thought. Abruptly he turned and headed for Foster's Cafe.' Maybe Foster was there. Sit on the balcony. Chit chat. Tell him about leaving. After all what did it matter now? Foster would be pleased that he would be the first, well discounting Sam and Doc, to know.
"I feel for Gus," Teresa stated, "But enough is enough. I told him so. Told him he was taking advantage of my good nature." At Gus's, Jun, in the slow way she worked, waited on the dozen or so people who filled the tables. Richard alone occupied the bar and had sat there nursing a drink for about an hour while listening to Teresa complain about Gus. He, finding Foster's totally empty, had headed for Gus's, knowing that at least Teresa would be there. He would tell her the news, watch the joy for him explode across her face. The moment he walked in he noticed that the tape player was silent. No big bands. No Andes flutes. Just the street noises outside. The groaning of wooden carts, the rumblings of chicken buses, the pounding of feet on the sidewalk. He had made the mistake of asking about the music, and Teresa, longing for an ear, had readily explained. Gus, according to Teresa, had returned from the States and had taken up roost at a table upstairs. For company he carried along two fifths of Ouzo. Richard didn't need to be told about the Ouzo. He could hear Gus up there cursing. Loud. Obnoxious. Mean. Hopefully soon the Ouzo would have the
desired effect and Gus would pass out on the table and sleep off whatever ailed him. Which was obviously his boy. "Give him a day." "I'll gladly give him a lifetime. I love him. He's the gentlest man I ever met in my life. You wouldn't know this by watching him rage all day at every little thing. But late at night he reads to me. Mostly poetry, poems he wrote, and poems from poets like Browning, Thomas, and others. Sometimes he reads from books, whole chapters at a time out loud. That booming voice of his becomes soft, mellow, peaceful. Like he's found a place, a safe clean place...and I am part of his safe clean place. It's all he wants, you know. A place where the past doesn't call on him." "Did he say anything at all about his son?" "Has a letter from him. Waved it in the air. But wouldn't show me the letter. Just went upstairs and started drinking. He wasn't even upset when I told him about two more chairs being stolen." While Teresa spoke, the ranting and screaming upstairs had died out. "Maybe he's asleep," he ventured. "God I hope so. But, she firmly continued, "Tomorrow. No more. I'll move out. I've had it." Little locks of brown hair fell over her forehead. She shook her head, tossing the locks this way and that way, highlighting
she meant it. But as she excused herself and went to the storeroom, he knew she wasn't trying to convince him but herself. She loved Gus. Gus loved her. In a strange way they were made for each other. Gus the seething raging poet, and Teresa, gentle slow Teresa. If he returned in ten years he would find them still together. Find Gus's the same. Gus. Teresa. The music. He laughed nervously at the image, and wondered whether he could say the same of Crista and himself. Teresa came out of the storeroom carrying two bottles of Jim Beam. Placing them on the bar, she asked what he was laughing about. "Nothing." She ran a towel over each bottle. "You always say that." "Because I always am." he pointed at his glass. It was empty. "Refill, please." "Only if you go up and check on Gus." Gus was quiet. So he agreed, and slid off the stool and walked up the stairs. Like a wounded bear, Gus lay slumped head against a table, his shaggy beard resting in a pool of Ouzo. The letter from his boy lay on the ground. Richard moved his head so he wasn't lying in Ouzo. Gus groaned, and tiny bubbles burped from his lips...but he slept on. Richard picked up the letter. Gus, Gus, he whispered. He folded it and stored it away in Gus's pants' pocket. He did consider reading it, but the contents
weren't his business. Teresa had refilled his glass. As soon as he sat on the stool, she worriedly inquired about Gus. "Fine. Have a hell of a head when he wakes. But fine. Breathing. Stinking of Ouzo. But fine." "Maybe I should put him in bed." Her eyebrows arched, as if asking for help. Gus was a heavy man and he had no intention of straining his back trying to cart him down a dozen stairs. "Let him sleep. In a few hours, we'll drag him to bed." "Got a new letter from my husband," she announced. "He bought a new pasta machine. He's so sad. Do you think anybody is happy? I mean most of the time Gus and I are happy. But is anybody truly happy?" Bar talk, or the famous sucker question. He started to tell her about him and Crista, first chance he had had, and how happy they were...this news would certainly cheer Teresa up. But Edwardo sided up at the bar. "Is Alexia around?" he inquired in Spanish. "No," he answered, "Left for the coast." A visible sigh of comical relief flashed across his face. "Good, I can speak Spanish. But I am an innocent victim. English so difficult. Oh well. Alexia. Such a woman. Too much for one man, no?"
"Yes," he answered, grinning at his antics. "So I have a rum. Teresa a rum. No water. No ice. No glass if you don't want to wash it. Just bring the bottle. I drink it all." "Silly," she answered. "Ah Teresa," he, his hands dancing magically in the air, replied, "Give a poor man a bottle. A rich man drinks by the glass. Ah, but a rich man, he needs but a glass, a poor man requires a bottle to wash away life's heartaches." Much to Richard's surprise she set a bottle of Ron Botran on the bar. "Señorita you obviously have Latin blood running through your veins." "Edwardo," she said. She leaned forward planting her elbows on the bar and fixed those deep brown eyes of hers on him. "You are the only real character in this town. Everybody else fakes it." "No, Señorita," he replied in all seriousness, "I fake faking it." Although his hands lay on the bar he raised one finger, a gesture so Latin Richard almost laughed out loud. "You see." Teresa had a good hearty laugh, a laugh incapable of false hood. And she threw her head back and gave a good example of it. They enjoyed watching her so much they didn't see Doc and Sam
until they were almost upon them. Richard attempted to hide his surprise behind heightened foolery...comically so...and sprang off the stool and held both hands welcoming wide. "Doc! Sam! What a delight!" "You're full of shit," Doc replied, "You about as delighted to see me as a snowman a blazing sun." "Doc, Doc," he cajoled, and pulled one shoulder back in mock injury. "Enough foolery," he ordered, "You are obviously in good spirits because you think you are home free. Your obligation sated, you expect to celebrate. You are not. You will not. Not just yet. I decided to take you up on your offer of last night. I want to see the kind of metal you and Sam are made of." To say unpleasantness was evident in Doc's voice and demeanor, would be an understatement. Even Teresa admonished Doc. "Doc what's got into you?" Edwardo had seen too much of life to be confused or amazed. His dark eyes were trained on them all, taking it all in...digesting the events and the vocal tones. Richard turned to Sam who shook his head, and pointed upstairs. "Teresa, have Jun bring Doc and me a drink. Please." "Sure," she answered. Without further word, Sam trailed behind Doc up the stairs to the roof garden.
"And another for me," Richard said, "And Edwardo, I leave you in Teresa's loving hands. Later." "Friend," he said, "The Doc is a good man. But there are rumors. The guerrillas. These fools who kill a soldier or two and run to hide in the mountains. The Doc, he has a fire burning in his stomach. Let it go. If it true you have reason to celebrate, stay and help me finish off this bottle of Rum. I am but a small man. The bottle is big. Take two men. You say yes, no?" "Thanks Edwardo," he replied, "But I have to hear what Doc has to say." "Ah well, I will work on the bottle while you are gone. I save you a little." "Sure," he replied without enthusiasm and went upstairs. He found Doc and Sam occupying a table a few tables away from where Gus snored. He straddled the chair opposite Doc so he could study him. He was angry. As much as he felt sorry for Doc, he wasn't going to take any more of his shit. Last night was enough. "What's on your mind Doc," he said right off, "more secrets? About me? Sam? Huh? There are no more. Crista and I are leaving. I pop a valium or two to help me sleep; it's this Godforsaken country...damn country makes a man fear even fear. And Sam is in the C.I.A. And Gus over there is a drunk because he's a poet at heart and has a kid who's an asshole. Now do you want to start
muttering about babies and blood? Go ahead. I don't give a damn anymore." "Richard," Sam soothed. "No, no, fuck him!" "You know, Richard," Doc said, "I never liked you. Too unemotional. Too indifferent. At first I thought it was an act. But as time went by, and I got to know you better, I realized you weren't acting at all." Richard stood to leave. "I don't have to take this shit from you." "Richard," Sam said, "Sit." But he remained standing. "Please. Time is short." He acquiesced, but sat only half on the chair, ready to stand at a moment's notice. "Tell me now what the hell is going on. And Doc, no more comments from you or I am out of here...Sam not withstanding." "Doc," Sam ordered, "Shut up for five minutes or I am out of here also." They were interrupted by Teresa who carried a tray with three glasses on it. Sensing that she had intruded on a heated conversation, she murmured on about wanting to check on Gus as she placed the drinks on the table. The moment the drinks were placed on the table she went over and bent over Gus. She stood
and awkwardly pronounced him stone drunk and sleeping. She grinned sheepishly and left the roof garden. "We're going to meet with Jorge," Sam announced the moment Teresa was gone. "The hell you say!" Richard incredulously replied. "Doc arranged it," Sam stated. "I..." Doc started to say. "Just shut up Doc. Just shut the fuck up!" Why Doc didn't resent Richard and lash out for speaking so harshly, was a mystery. Instead he nodded, not meekly or out of defeat, just a simple nod, then sipped on his drink while fixing yellow eyes on Sam. "We leave in fifteen minutes," Sam said. "Where?" "The coast. A town called Monterrico. Fifteen kilometers to the north lays the Mexico, fifteen Kilometers. to the south lays El Salvador. Probably why Jorge picked the location. If it's a trap, and he has to make a run for it, he stands a fiftyfifty chance of making either border. Home free...so to speak. "Ever hear of the place?" Doc sneered at Richard. "Yeah Doc," he replied thinking about Alexia. "Although I haven't traveled the mountains and outlying regions I am well aware of Guatemala's boarders. So stuff it." "There are several chicken buses that can take us part way.
Three changes in all. The first in Guatemala city," Sam explained, "But there is only one direct bus that leaves from Antigua. And even this bus drops its passengers at a dirt road, at a sort of town called La Avellana. From there we have to take a dugout to Monterrico. Jorge says it is tonight or never. So tonight it is. The bus leaves in fifteen minutes. Departs the next morning for the return trip at ten. The trip takes about three hours. We're suppose to check into the Ocean Hotel, a cheap dive. But it's on the beach. There we wait patiently for Jorge to contact us." Even Richard, who had only ridden on a chicken bus once, was aware that riding on a chicken bus at night was a dangerous affair. After dark the buses were open game; bandits, guerrillas and the military prayed on them and the passengers. But he said nothing of these fears, instead he asked, "Why? After last night why should we do this? Why believe Doc? Maybe Jorge wants to kidnap us? We do work for the Embassy. Give him leverage." "I don't trust Doc," Sam, a visible strain stitched across his eyebrows, replied. "And I rather this had worked out last night...trust between friends. But this is the way it played out. So if it's a trap, so be it. If so Jorge is wasting his time. As hostages, we're small fry." And according to State, expendable. But Sam kept this to himself. "You failed to answer my question. Why?"
"Because I promised. Call it a Texas thing, or Machismo with honor. Choose which one suits you. So I am going. I would like you to tag along in case it blows up in my face. Like I said, I don't trust Doc. So how about I say please real nice." "Why the hurry? What's the rush? We can leave tomorrow?" "Doc arranged it. Even came to the Embassy and took me outside and explained about the meeting. Insisted I leave my car and take his back to Antigua. Makes sense. Only us three know. And Jorge." "You two are talking like I am a third person. Like I did last night," Doc complained. "That's right Doc," Richard coolly replied. "Remember, I am the one who is indifferent. You are the savior. Sam, I'll go. Do I have time to call Crista?" "Probably," he answered, "But you better not. We'll be back in the morning." It was good advice, and he decided to take it. He stood. "Doc," he said, "While we are gone you can do a good deed by taking care of Gus. I realize he isn't Indian. But he is a human being." Up until then Doc had withstood Richard's onslaught, the attack on his character. But the effect of Richard's last words were apparent on him. The skin around the eyes grew ashen, and the yellow rims stared out blankly as if lost.
Richard expected Sam to say he was being too harsh on Doc, but Sam, expressionless, stood. They left Gus's for the bus terminal. On the way they stopped at a leanto with bottles of Shampoo, bars of soap, and toothpastes and toothbrushes lined up on a single wooden shelf. At Sam's instruction, they each purchased a tooth brush and tooth paste. As they were in a hurry, they didn't bother to haggle, and the kid working the stand, about nine and wearing a frayed teeshirt that read, 'Vote For Lyndon Johnson,' overcharged them by double. A broad smile ran across his young face as they walked away. "You come back," he cheerfully said. "Many special prices just for you. You my friends now. You come back I always here. Day and night. I never sleep. Special prices just for you." "Vote for Johnson," Sam threw over his shoulder. The kid yelled, "Special price just for you. Mr. Johnson. Special price for him also."
The chicken bus was a blood brother to the one Richard and Doc had taken to Santa Maria: the rosy beads for good luck hanging from the rearview mirror, the stern rules in English, a miniature statue of the Virgin Mary replacing Jesus, Bart Simpson replacing Bugs Bunny. The bus also was stuffed full, three Indians to a seat and the aisle standingroom only, and the usual assortment of chickens with blankeyed, stapledshut beaks. Sam edged and shoved his way to the rear in search of a seat, while Richard got lucky and managed to barely squeeze on a seat with three slender Indian women on it. Almost from the moment they boarded, the driver headed off, taking a route half circling Antigua, gears meshing and springs groaning while turning onto a dirt back road that veered away from Antigua. The dirt road was littered with ruts and every half second the bus jounced so Richard had to lean inward to keep from sliding off the seat. Events had moved too quickly for him to gather his thoughts and he swiveled his head attempting to find Sam and shoot a few
questions his way. Sam's sixfeetplus frame was a good five inches taller then the average Indian. But he couldn't find him in the sea of people crammed toward the rear of the bus; not even his head or his hair. So he settled in as best he could. Like before, the closeness in the bus made him uncomfortable. He felt penned in and also fumed inside, and chastised himself: he had to be the biggest idiot in the world. A fool. All he had to do was call Crista and in the morning they were off, gone, this insanity behind him. But no, here he was heading to god only knew where to meet a man the Guatemalan army would give their balls to capture. God damn it to hell. He still fumed when an hour later, the bus turned again. This road was also dirt and so narrow that the lush jungle vegetation brushed the sides of the bus. Within minutes two things happened that unnerved him. They had been riding in darkness for about a half an hour and the night had brought with it cool outside air. The cool air blowing through the open windows had helped to ease the crushing closeness inside the bus. But suddenly a tropical heat invaded the bus. Hot and humid, the heat assaulted the sweat glands, and perspiration beaded on his arms. He was still penned in by people and was unable to move his arms more than a few inches in any direction. He wore a long sleeved shirt and careful not to elbow the woman sitting next to him or the man standing with his knees pressed against his leg
managed to roll the sleeves up. But it didn't help. Sweat trickled off his forearms. If he sweated, so did the other passengers and within minutes the interior of the bus quickly reeked of perspiration...a sticky foul odor akin to the odor in the kitchen the other night. The heat and the foul odor emitted by everybody on the bus made him nauseous. The second thing was the noise. A thunderous rattle and hum of parrots and birds rang out. The rattle and hum was so unnerving he wanted to stand up and scream. But the bus was too crowded to stand. He breathed in deep, choking on the foul air, and wedged a hand in his pocket and took out the pill bottle. As he sucked on a Valium, he soothed silently: Just relax. He repeated this over a hundred times and slowly grew accustomed to the rank air in the crowded bus and to the rattle and hum. As he did so, eventually the noise outside became a soothing vibration. A few minutes later he felt calmer, and for the first time settled in. He watched the other passengers and began to notice an ethnic change taking place. They had started out with mostly Indian women, hair braided, and clothed in the traditional bright colors of their villages. But as the bus creaked and bounced toward the coast, it stopped every few minutes and one by one or sometimes in twos or threes the Indian women disembarked and were quickly swallowed up by the deep jungle denseness. Stop by stop, the ethnicmake up of the bus
took on a Mexican flavor, and soon held mostly men, rough characters, leathery, sunburned, bronzed faces shielded by straw cowboy hats, faded jeans and leather belts sporting huge brass buckles molded in the shape of a gun or a naked women. The changes also were apparent in the occasional village outside the window; more Mexican in flavor then Guatemalan. The men loitering on the streets had a Mexican meanness to them: lanky, gaunt faced, thumbs shoved in the side pockets of their jeans. The women were lighter skinned than their Indian counterparts and wore dresses, or blouses and skirts and suggestively laughed at the men talking to them. At some point the jungle vanished, and Richard couldn't say when because he had drifted off. He was jolted awake when the bus hit a deep crevice in the road. He came awake thinking they had hit a tree or worse: guerrillas or bandits or the army were attacking the bus. He automatically glanced out the window. Flat open land lay outside. A full moon highlighted cane stalks. When the breeze stroked the stalks, they wavered, resembling people waving at the passing bus. The wavering stalks hauntingly stretched for miles upon miles. "Jesus, what an eerie sight," he remarked. "Sure is," Sam commented. He looked away from the window at him, surprised. First of all because Sam sat next to him...legs hanging out in the aisle,
and secondly because only a few people remained on the bus. "When the three Indian women edged by you, I jumped forward, almost knocking over an old man, and took the seat. You just sort of instinctively moved over without waking." "A quickly acquired habit on these buses," he replied. "An inherent traveler's habit period. Planes. Trains. Buses. The mind and body lean with the curves. I was watching you when the bus entered the stretch of jungle. The sudden heat. Your face turned green. The guy standing next to me commented that this was probably your first trip to the lowlands. I said it was. Feeling better?" "Lowlands, huh," he said in response. "Well it is beautiful out there." "Yeah. I traveled this way many times. The first time was a long time ago. Just a kid, eighteen. Came over the border from the Mexican side. Three of us. We were young and full of jumping hormones and came looking for pussy." "Find any?" "Give me a break." He grinned and glanced out the window at the fields. His nerves were a bit frayed, either by waking suddenly or by riding for several hours aboard a cramped bus. So he fished the pill bottle out and chewed on another Valium and was in the process of replacing the bottle when Sam asked for one. He was surprised and
showed as much. "Listen," he said, "You're not the only one who takes a Valium. So give me one. My muscles are all cramped up. I'd rather have Bourbon, but I'll take anything right now." He handed the bottle over to him. At the bitterness, Sam winced while crushing the tablet between his teeth. "Much longer?" "God I hate the taste of these things," he said and handed the bottle back. "About ten minutes." "You too, huh?" "Yeah," he remarked, "If Doc's on the level, all is fine. If not, we're in deep water." "Why we going?" "Because we said we would, or because we want to save a kid, or because we want to meet the mysterious Jorge or because we are fools." "I vote for the latter," he replied. "By the way Alexia might be at Monterrico. Told me the other night she intended on spending a few days there before leaving for Germany. Shouldn't be a problem though. Probably staying at a different hotel." "Yeah, she told me also. But don't count on it," Sam replied. "There are only three hotels; all dives. The hotel we're meeting Jorge at is the best of a bad lot. The place is owned by an American woman who spent time in the Peace Corps. She married
a Guatemalan man. The beach at Monterrico is unspoiled. She figured the place was perfect for tourists; especially considering Monterrico is so close to Mexico's wealthy tourist beaches. So they opened a hotel and waited for the tourists...even planned on adding a riding stable and a pool. Never panned out." "You seem to know a lot about her." "The files. She's in there." "So what you're saying is we might run into Alexia; if she's there?" A worried silence came over Sam and his brow deepened and he stared straight ahead. As the bus continued its journey, Richard too found himself worrying about Alexia. Ever since Sam and he had drunkenly planned this venture, a series of mishaps had dogged them. Alexia was just one more mishap; unfortunately she was an innocent. But there is a point beyond caring. Tiredness seeps in. Doc, Ruth, Gus, Alexia. He pushed them away as the bus pushed on and was fantasizing about Crista and how wonderful it would be when they were in New York City when the bus, brakes screeching, reached as far as it could go without falling into water. The sudden stop rattled him...he jerked his head and looked out the window. The headlights swept over La Avellana, framing in a single sweep a dusty oasis entrenched in the middle of nowhere.
What there was of it consisted of a river bank where a good dozen tethered wooden dugouts gently rocked side by side, a few thatched huts, and a tienda. An overhead bulb burned inside the tienda. A few men sat inside drinking rum. They and an old man were the only other passengers left on the bus. The old man moved ahead of them, slow, as if tired after a hard day's work. After the long ride Richard's limbs were cramped, and he mentally urged the old man along...to no avail. At last the man cautiously stepped off the bus and continued his slow pace toward one of the huts. "Wait here," Sam tiredly instructed. He headed toward the Tienda. A few seconds later when he returned, with a man, pale crescent face and dirty coveralls, followed him. The man reeked of rum. "He will take us to Monterrico. Double the price." "How much is double," he asked, not really caring. "Two Q." "Forty cents," he muttered. "Each," Sam replied. The man untied one of the dugouts and, one hand flying up in disapproval, motioned for them to climb in. A tattered canvas awning stretched out above the length of the dugout. Wooden planks built a foot up from the hull lined both sides of the dugout. Sam and Richard took opposite sides and stared past each
other. To keep from thinking at all, Richard followed the reflection of the full moon on the water. If the man was drunk, his actions didn't show it. He stood steady at the helm and using an eightfootlong pole guided the dugout along the waterway. The man knew the route like the back of his hand and quietly steered the dugout up one channel and another. They arrived at Monterrico fifteen minutes later, fifteen minutes of maneuvering water and reeds. The man docked the dugout by clamping five blackened fingers to a rotted twoby four at the pier to steady the boat. They climbed off. Sam paid him. The man, without so much as a thank you, guided the dugout out back along the waterway. They stood on the pier. Mosquitoes buzzed. Richard brushed at the air, at them. The heat, stifling, hung in the air. He gave up on the mosquitoes and mopped at his brow and the hand came away damp. "This is hell," Sam said. Was there resignation in Sam's voice? An attitude of defeat? Or just the weariness that comes after a long tedious journey? Richard couldn't tell, so he asked, "What's wrong?" "I hate this place. Hated it the first time too." "Why?" "Look around you. Take a good look." Sam's voice held a command, the first time he had ever used
such on Richard. But he wasn't annoyed by it or angry, and did as instructed. Two Tiendas anchored both sides of the dock. They were closed. They were built of wood, and in the light from the moon he saw how rundown they were. The wood splintered off in spots, revealing dark gaping holes. Within the shadows of the Tienda on his right something moved, and at first he thought it was a dog, but as his eyes adjusted to the shadows, saw it was a pig, a huge fat pig. The pig sauntered out, and roamed up the street, its snout brushing against the dirt road like a vacuum cleaner. "Hundreds of them," Sam dryly commented. "Where's the hotel?" "About four blocks up." Richard sniffed in deeply, expecting to smell salt air, but dust clogged his nostrils and he coughed. "Lets go," Sam said. "It's cooler there. The ocean." There were no street lights and the moment they stepped away from the pier total darkness engulfed them so only the vague shapes of buildings bled through, that and the rooting pigs. Richard looked up for the moon, but palm trees blocked out its light. Sam maintained a steady but slow gait. After a block their eyes adjusted to the darkness and the buildings took on a sandy substance, grainy in nature, as did the pigs, unmistakable rotund shapes...shapes that would have frightened Richard had he not
known what they were. Still he was cautious, unsure whether pigs were dangerous or not. For three blocks he searched for signs of human life, but saw none. It was late, he reasoned, almost nine, and like Antigua, the residents probably retired early. A few moments later they came upon an open Comador where men sat at tables eating and drinking. The smell of the sea was strong here. Seeing the men eat reminded Richard that he hadn't eaten since breakfast, and mentioned as much. "From here there will be a half dozen or so tiendas. Buy a candy bar or a bag of Tamale chips or anything prepackaged," Sam instructed. "Black water. Malaria. Dysentery. Don't eat here. Me, I am buying a liter of rum." "Jesus Sam," he echoed, already frightened enough. "Trust me on this. Come morning you'll see." Richard declined further comment. And true to Sam's word, a half dozen Tiendas lined the next bock. There was also the ocean, the resounding crash of waves. Sam chose a Tienda. A big fat woman sat posted on a stool. Cockroaches the size of water beetles crawled on the walls and counter. Richard stood a few inches away from the counter as did Sam. Sam purchased a liter of Rum. Richard followed suit, adding three bags of Tamale chips. The woman had cold dark eyes and it was obvious she didn't like serving them. When they left, she just grunted at Sam's thank
you. He added in English, 'Bitch.' "The entire town is like that," Sam remarked. "Why?" They had walked a few feet and had reached a stone embankment leading down. The smell and sound of the ocean, strong and pungent, cleansed the dust and dirt of the town from their lungs. The embankment sloped, and they slid down and landed on sand. Richard took a few steps and looked behind him. The town had vanished, engulfed in its own darkness. The ocean faced them. For as far as the eyes could see, spaciousness greeted them. Unencumbered shoreline stretched endlessly in both directions. Richard muttered, "What a contrast." "Yeah," Sam replied, jerking a thumb behind him, "Heaven and hell. Let's go, we're almost there." As they walked up the beach, shoes sinking in the sand, Richard asked Sam again why the people were so strange. "I never could figure it out," he replied, relief in his voice. "Rebel stronghold, maybe. But that doesn't begin to explain it. You saw the men. All drunk. They drink all day. The women, beaten, both figuratively and literally. Doesn't make any sense. Back in the States people crawl all over each other to live in such beauty." They had walked a good three hundred yards when Sam stopped. Heat lightning flashed over the horizon. He pointed straight
ahead, and Richard looked to where he was pointing. At the entrance to a hotel, a light shone. "That's it. I hope Jorge is there so we can get this over with. I want to get drunk." Stones were set in the sand leading to the hotel, and they followed them until they entered a courtyard. A golden retriever ran up to them barking. Sam patted him on the head and the dog ceased his yapping, and, tail wagging, wandered off. Several lamps burned on the hotel's veranda. Alexia lay in a hammock reading a book. Her shoulder length hair was tied back bun fashion. A long, whitetee shirt fell to her thighs where the edges of a red swimsuit peeked out. She waved a hand, chasing away persistent mosquito’s and flies. A beefy man wearing only a blue bikini swim suit lay in another hammock. He stared at the ceiling while puffing on a huge cigar. The smoke from the cigar kept the mosquito’s and flies at bay. Several salt eaten green tables and chairs bordered the wall of the veranda. A man sat on a chair at one of the tables. He was casually dressed, tan slacks, white poppin shirt. "Jorge," Sam announced. Richard knew this instinctively, but was taken aback by his appearance. He had expected Jorge to be Indian. But he was so fair skinned that he could pass as white or at the very least a Spaniard. And even in his sitting position, Richard could tell he
was in good physical shape: a chiseled face, dark intense eyes and lean but muscular forearms. But truth be told it was the other man who worried him.
For Alexia their arrival amounted to an eyeopener. "What?" she uttered, sitting upright in astonishment. "Ah you brought rum," Jorge announced, merrily, happily, cheerfully, as if a party was planned. He stood and leaned over the veranda and searched up and down the beach. Satisfied they were alone, he turned and smiled. Richard knew it was a silly thought, but he noticed that Jorge had a full set of sparkling white teeth. "I have waited a long time. I thought you wouldn't show." "Long trip," Sam replied. "For you, yes. For me, no. But time is short. We walk. Drink. Talk." "Just you and me?" Sam inquired. "Two people," Jorge replied, and tightly clenched his fist, "Two people become one. Three, like the father, son and the holy ghost...a body cannot hold three." "I don't like it," Richard countered. "It is the only way," Jorge declared. "Make up your mind
now. Yes? No?" Sam motioned by nodding. "He's right. Out there lies darkness and safety. Here on the veranda a light burns. I'll be all right." "By the way I paid for two rooms for you. My treat." Together they went out to the beach. Richard leaned over the veranda and watched them until the deep ocean darkness swallowed them up. He still didn't like it, but there was nothing to do. When he moved away from the veranda, Alexia stared inquisitively. The man smoking the cigar hadn't budged an inch, his gaze never straying from the ceiling while Sam and Jorge had talked. The man worried him, and he motioned toward the table and chairs that Jorge had vacated. Alexia deftly slid off the hammock. A host of mosquitoes and flies followed them. He set the rum and the Tamale chips on the table. The ocean breeze was cool but still the air was humid...heavy and sticky. But even so he rolled his shirt sleeves down to protect the skin from the mosquitoes. Then, although feeling foolish, took a seat so he faced the man on the hammock. Silly really. If the man had a gun and was one of Jorge's men and decided or had orders to kill them there wasn't a damn thing he could about it. He had even left the mace at home. Alexia took a seat facing him. "What are you and Sam doing here?"
He had no idea how to answer that. Hey, Sam is meeting Jorge, the guerrilla leader the entire country is searching for. No. A lie was in order. No. Vagueness. He decided on vagueness. "Embassy business," he explained. He fully expected her to pry further. But she accepted the short twoline explanation with a firm nod, indicating no further inquires would be made. "Who's the guy?" he asked while prying the cap off the rum. For a moment the cap wouldn't budge. But he wasn't in a mood for resistance from a damn cap and yanked it off with such force it flew over the wall of the veranda out to the nothingness darkness beyond. He grinned foolishly and offered the bottle to her. She shook her head at his antics, took a sip, made a face...wrinkled up nose and lips...and handed the bottle back. He busted open a bag of Tamale chips and ate a few. "The second sip goes down smoother," he explained, "The third smoother yet, and after that you feel nothing." "I am sure," she responded. "But I still like it Cuba Libra fashion." "Could go to town for a few Cokes." She made the same face. "Too ugly." He nodded. "The guy?" She glanced in his direction. "Antonio. Italian. Spent the past three weeks here. Recovering from malaria."
"Was he here when you arrived?" "Yes," she answered, and anticipating the next question, followed with, "and I arrived early this morning." Up until then he had held himself rigid, expecting the worst, and relaxed, not much but enough to ease the butterflies in his stomach. She noticed this and lay a comforting hand on his. The gesture was real and made him think of Crista. Again the differences between them sprang to mind. This wasn't the time and he elbowed the thought away. "How many other guests are there?" "Just us two. And now you and Sam. And that man Sam left with." "He won't be staying. Another?" He offered her the bottle, "And have some Tamale chips." "Why not," she replied, and took a drink. Still she made the same face while handing over the bottle. "You are wrong about the second one." He chewed on a few more Tamale chips and washed them down with a long hard pull. The Tamale chips and the rum filled the hunger pains...a little anyway. He smacked his lips and set the bottle on the table between them. "Let's hope I am not wrong about the third." "Let's test your theory out." She grabbed the bottle by the neck and took a large swallow, compressed her lips and looked at him...waiting. At last she smiled. "Good."
"So, are you relaxing here?" "Uselessly so," she replied. She reached behind her and unfastened the rubber band. She shook her head and her hair filled out and fell to her shoulders. "Much too hot during the day to wear it down." "Not much to do here, I imagine." She slapped at a mosquito. "Imagine less." Again she slapped a mosquito. "They don't bother you." "Sometimes no, sometimes yes," he replied. "Light a cigarette. Sometimes it helps, sometimes not." She said she was trying to quit but kept a pack with her, and excused herself and went to her room. While she was gone, he leaned over the veranda and searched for Sam. "They won't be back for awhile," the man on the hammock offered. He stared at him inquisitively. "It is simple," he said. He struggled to stand. The hammock closed in and he finally fell off and stood and walked over. "In bocca al lupo." "Pardon?" Richard said, thinking the man was speaking bad Spanish. "Italian. It means: Into the mouth of the wolf. In Italy when two men take a bottle and walk off in the darkness it means this. They won't be back until they reach whatever accord they
came here to reach. My name is Antonio." Cigar clamped firmly between his teeth, he held out a beefy hand. Richard grasped it. The return grasp was both firm and friendly. "Join us," he offered. "Rum?" "A pleasure," he replied, and seated himself next to Richard. "But I must refuse the offer of a drink...painfully so. I am recovering from malaria." He busted open the other bag of Tamale chips. "Then have some Tamale chips." "Thanks." "Catch it here?" "El Salvador. I got pissfaced drunk one night and like a woman missing a birth control pill I missed a malaria tablet...and the Virgin Mary mosquito visited me and presto. Only instead of blowing up, I deflated. Look at me. Fat. But you should have seen me five weeks ago. Huge. I lost over a hundred stone. But the worst is over." Richard reached for the bottle, then hesitated. "Drink! Drink for me!" Antonio insisted. As he did so he leaned his head back and puffed on the cigar until the end glowed and blue clouds circled above him. At last he grasped the cigar between thumb and forefinger. "Keeps the mosquitoes away." "One liked cigar smoke," he joked.
Antonio laughed, a huge throaty sound rolling up and out from his gut. Alexia returned and charmed Richard with a smile. She had a soft youthful face, pretty, but not overly so, but in the dim lighting and the music of crashing waves the smile made her beautiful...or so he imagined. But the rum had warmed him considerably and he thought that it could just be the rum. The plume of cigar smoke had chased away mosquitoes and flies alike. She saw this and said so. "Yes, no," he remarked, stroking his chin. "I will smoke anyway," she announced. But she waited. And for a while they fell silent each enjoying the crashing of the waves and the occasional bolt of heat lighting. During this time Alexia and Richard took turns at the rum and the Tamale chips. Antonio puffed on the cigar chasing away the lone brave mosquito or fly. The rum added a soft red glow to Alexia’s cheeks and she finally joined Antonio by lighting up a cigarette, laying her head back and creating a cloud of smoke. Soon they made a contest of it. The cigar against the cigarette. But Antonio said this wasn't fair. His cigar was much bigger. So he would let Alexia smoke two cigarettes at once. She agreed. Richard leaned back and watched them, their antics amusing enough to make him forget Sam and Jorge. When the air around them was sufficiently polluted to give even a mosquito a mile away
cancer, Richard was about to pronounce a winner when Antonio ceremoniously lay the cigar aside. "She wins, no?" "Yes," he answered. "Wait here," he said and stood and went to a room bordering the veranda. "Wait ti'llyou see this," she said and lifted the bottle. She took a good long slug before setting it on the table. "I want to show you this," Antonio announced coming out of his room. At the table he handed Richard three passports: Italian, Guatemalan and Venezuelan. Richard was duly impressed and lifted his eyebrows to show as much. "That is nothing," he said and handed Richard a bright red card. On it was a photo of him. Heavier, to be sure, taken before the malaria had eaten the pounds away. The fine print identified him as a Major in the Guatemalan military. A chill ran down Richard's spine. How could he be so dumb? "Is fake, of course. As are the passports...except for the Italian one." The chill fled, and he breathed a sigh of relief. "Why?" "I am retired. Worked as a pipe fitter in Italy. The wife died and I grew bored. So I came down here. I liked it. The passports allow me to cross borders without hassle. The military card, well in Guatemala...you know what I mean."
He said he did. "Ah well," he said, and gathered up the passports and military card, "I go to bed. The malaria or the doing nothing all day. Makes me tired. Good to meet you." He said likewise and they shook hands and he was gone. "Quite a fellow," he idly observed. "Like Edwardo," she replied. "I can see the character resemblance." "You think I was too hard on him...you know, forcing him to speak English?" He hesitated. "He is denying his life. Hiding behind alcohol. He was a great journalist once." "I think maybe he's just old and tired." "But this is my point," she heartily exclaimed. "He lies to himself saying he is dead while still alive." She laughed and said, "Sorry. I get all worked up. It is the German in me." "I never thought Germans to be particularly emotional," he replied, thinking of Crista, "Analytical, yes." "I am analytical too," she declared. "But I am emotional also." He raised a half hand as if to say: okay. "Do you like the American flag?" she abruptly asked. The question caught him off guard and without thinking he
automatically answered yes. "I love Germany but I cringe at the German flag." "Allow me to rephrase my statement," he said, "I love America." He paused and laughed. "What's so funny?" "I always feel stupid when I say America. Guatemala is America also. It would be like you saying you loved Europe, when meaning Germany. I should say the United States. Arrogance or ignorance?" "Yes, yes, I understand," she passionately replied, "I feel the same way. Germans. They all see only Germany, the flag. I am sickened by this." "Because of the Nazis?" he cautiously ventured. "Sure. Before I was born my father escaped from East Germany. When the wall fell he was very excited. He had plans to return and help rebuild Eastern Germany. But, well he is old, and the old cling to ideals much like the young." As before at Gus's, he was struck by her maturity. "How old are you?" "Twentyeight." "I thought twentyfour." "Thanks. And you?" "Fifty six," he answered. "That is..."
A long moment passed while she searched for the right word. "...A nice age." "And thank you," he kindly responded. For a moment they grew quiet, both calculating the years between them. She broke the ensuing silence. "I told you about Alvaro. Remember?" "Sure." "He owns a restaurant in Antigua. A small place. Lately we fight too much. He complains about everything. Things like I use the wrong knife when cutting onions. I think he come to Germany. But something is broken between us. Now I don't know." "These things happen," he replied. "Yes maybe you are right." "Broken things can be glued." "Maybe." You are very beautiful, Alexia, so very beautiful. And the waves are out there singing for us. And we are alone. Let's... "Trust me," he said, ignoring his thoughts, "They will work out." "Yes. Well...I am drunk and I better go to bed. I see you in the morning." "Maybe," he answered, "We leave early." At his response, her face grew stoic, hard, and he was reminded of Crista.
"I will see you at 'Gus's,' before you leave." "Yes, please do," she responded, her face once again soft and young. She entered the room next door to Antonio's. Her departure left him alone...feeling alone, and probably for the first time in years. A quarter of a bottle of rum remained. He lifted the bottle and drank it down in two gulps. As he set the bottle down, he lied to himself and said he had done the right thing. He was fifty six years old. He was in love with Crista. Alexia was in love with Alvaro. Than he told himself all sorts of things and was still doing so when Sam appeared next to him. Sam was alone. Richard wasn't sure whether it was the dim lighting or what, but Sam's face was sunken in and drawn. "How did it go?" "The boy will be home by morning." "Thank God." "God I hate this country," he muttered. He tossed a key across the table. "Drape the mosquito netting over the bed, otherwise they will eat you alive." He started to say, sure, but Sam was moving toward the rooms bordering the veranda. Richard sat for a while enjoying the end of it while listening to the singsong ocean waves pounding the surf. The mosquitoes annoyed him. But he was drunk enough to ignore them. Clouds had moved in, blocking out the moon. Beyond
the bootblack night, distant bright flashes of heat lightning filled out an otherwise tranquil sky. He too felt tranquil, at ease. At last he picked up the key and glanced at the number on the plastic tag. The room was next to Alexia’s. The room was basic, fivedollaranight, backpacker's bargain: small, walls whitewashed, a combination cubical toiletshower, and a thatched roof. He noticed right away the roof was a common roof shared by all the rooms. A light glowed from Alexia’s room. He shed his clothes on the floor, glad to be rid of them. They stank. The weather was hot enough outside that the coldwater shower sprouted out lukewarm water. He let the warm spray cascade over him while brushing his teeth and watching the pale stream of light coming from Alexia’s room. Mosquitoes buzzed, but maintained a safe distance from the meager spray of the water. Suddenly Alexia’s light went out. "Goodnight Alexia," he whispered. "Richard," she whispered back. "Yes." "Fiftysix isn't so old." "It's not that." "What?" "I too have somebody." "Do you love her?"
"Yes, but like you, I am unsure." "Unsure is worse than not knowing, no?" There wasn't an answer to that. After showering, he quickly, while mosquitoes buzzed overhead, untied the mosquito netting above the bed and let it fall pyramid fashion over the length of the bed. He slid under the netting and lay there, staring at the roof. The ocean breeze was cool against his wet body. But in no time at all the heat quickly evaporated the water before squeezing more water from his sweat glands. It was a very long time before he fell asleep. He tried lying to himself. It was the heat. The unfamiliar sound of the ocean waves crashing against the shoreline. But still he couldn't sleep. So he tried lying to himself some more. He missed the familiarity of his house, bed and Aqua. But these were all lies or excuses. It was Alexia. Next room over. He was a man. She a woman. The ocean. The beach. Here. Now. At last he crawled out from the netting and fished the pill bottle out of his pants' pocket. The valium had a bittersweet taste. Once back under the netting, he was asleep within moments.
During the night the tropical heat sweated every ounce of rum, and everything else both pure and impure, out of Richard's system and he awoke feeling better then he had felt in a long time. But the heat did nothing for his clothes and after showering and brushing his teeth, cringed at the thought of wearing them...but did. He found Sam on the veranda along with Antonio. A young Indian girl passed him a cursory glance while mopping the tiled floor. Antonio was showing Sam his collection of passports and military card. "Seen Alexia?" "She goes every morning," Antonio answered, "to look for dead sea turtles." "What?" "The turtles emerge from the ocean at night to bury their eggs in the sand. The natives kill the turtles for the eggs and sell the eggs for one Q. apiece in town. She goes to cry over them." "Alone," Richard asked?
A sorrowful look. "One must go into the mouth of the wolf alone," Richard replied to the look. "Is so." He leaned over the veranda searching both directions of the beach for her. There wasn't a soul out there. Miles upon miles of black sand stretched out only giving way to the crashing of waves. "One morning she walked all the way to El Salvador. I think she went that way. "Hunting sea turtles?" Antonio gave him an expression as only an Italian can, sad, downturned lovebegotten eyes. "Have I got time?" Richard asked Sam "We have to go. The bus," reminded Sam. "God damn I hate this fucking country," he angrily retorted. "Hate it to hell and back." "I will tell her you looked for her." "Please do." Sam handed over the passports and military card. "Good to meet you, Antonio." "Likewise," He replied. They each shook Antonio's beefy hand. "In bocca al lupo," Sam said.
"For men such as us there is no other way, no?"
The moment they entered the town, the ocean breeze died out and a high blistering sun plastered their clothes against their body. The pungent odor of rotting stench pigmented the air. Richard looked around for the source of the stench and saw nothing but stench. If night's darkness hides every blemish, daylight exposes them. Such it was with Monterrico. The vague shadows and shapes of last night became reality. Sam's assessment of hundreds of pigs was incorrect...there were thousands of pigs of all sizes, their ribs protruding like they were already barbecued. They roamed at will, rooting and pissing and shitting on the dirt streets and sidewalks and inside the tiendas and comedors. Joining the pigs were dozens of bone thin dogs, and filthy chickens. Although twentyfour hours had elapsed without any real food, and Richard expected to be hungry, the combination of the stench and the heat stifled such desires. "Ugly." "What?" Sam asked.
"Alexia called the town ugly." "Wrong adjective. Repulsive." A few minutes later they boarded a worm holed dugout for the ride to La Avellana. The dugout's canvas awning sheltered them from the sun and a wet breeze splayed, cooling them. An inch of water sloshed around the bottom of the dugout. They curled feet under the benches to keep them dry. A halfdozen men sat along the benches, each carrying a machete. Cane cutters, Richard thought, going to work. A kid boarded carrying an old tin pail that had the faded lettering on it: Untied States Food Aid Program. The pail was filled with ice and Cokes. They both bought one. The kid offered a straw, Sam accepted, Richard declined. The Coke tasted good. Cool. Refreshing. As the boat pulled away from the dock, the town more than the boat drifted away until it was just gone, lost in the winding channels. If the daylight had exposed the town's ugliness, it also lifted last night's cover of darkness over the channels. That cover lifted, the water bloomed like a peacock spreading his feathers...before them lay utter magnificence: Lush Mango groves skirted the shoreline. As did towering stocks of reeds. But it was a massive, for as far as the eyes could see, floating flotilla of blue flowers which took Richard's breath away. As the dugout glided through the stretch of flowers, the flowers gave way temporarily, opening a path, then like hands clasping,
rejoined flower to flower as the boat passed. Such was the utter beauty that had Crista or Alexia sat alongside him right then, Richard would have proposed. "Magnificent," he murmured. "And between this and the ocean lies hell. God's little joke, I imagine," Sam offered. But Richard was too stunned by the sheer beauty to answer. He kept the thought of Crista and the floating flowers firmly painted in his mind and it wasn't until they were on the chicken bus and on the way toward Antigua that he asked about Jorge. The bus was the same bus that had carried them from Antigua. Same driver. Same fare collector. Before boarding they purchased at the tienda two more cokes and a large bag of tamale chips. As the bus wasn't very crowded yet, they shared a seat. Sam munched on a Tamale chip and took a moment to swallow before answering. "Arrogant. Sure of himself. A very dangerous man. I neither liked him nor trusted him." "But he went for the deal?" "He haggled. He said he could not order a man to go home. His men were revolutionaries not conscripted soldiers. They were free men, not prisoners. How could he do such a thing. No, he would not. So I explained about the mother. The one son murdered by General Rosa. He knew, of course. He pretended to relent a
little, saying he understood such matters. A mother needed her sons. Especially in her old age. A son was all a mother had. But still, his men were free to choose. What could he do? A revolution. Did I understand? A revolution. Sacrifices had to be made. I said, yes, I understood revolution and sacrifices. But what was one man more or less? He nodded, and said, yes it was true, one man more or less. But?" "I realized he wanted me to convince him. In short he wanted me to beg, without actually begging. So I played him. His machismo. I told him that recognition of him and his cause would do far more for the revolution then one unskilled foot soldier. I told him this was my last word. He walked ahead of me on the beach, very serious, very somber, his hands clasped behind his back. At last he stopped and turned and smiled. We had a deal." "So it's really over," he said with relief. Sam shrugged, "It's never over." But it was over for Richard. He had had all he could take. As the bus continued toward Antigua, he began once again to plan his departure in earnest; what to take back to the States, what to leave Celia. And was still doing so when the bus stopped suddenly, throwing him forward against the seat ahead, head banging against the metal rail. Dazed by the impact, he saw stars. Sam muttered, "Shit."
As Richard blinked, shaking away the stars, three men wearing crisp green uniforms boarded the bus, Farabundo in the lead. "Keep cool," Sam instructed. At the sight of the soldiers, the other passengers sat passive, head down. The two men who accompanied Farabundo carried machine guns. That they had known Sam and Richard were on the bus became apparent when they stopped at where they sat and pointed the machine guns at them. "Follow us," they ordered. For the barest moment Richard overcame the initial fear building inside him and dwelled on how General Rosa knew they were on the bus. Only Doc and Jorge knew. But he was only allowed a moment to think. Farabundo ordered harshly, "Now! Move!." Richard expected Sam to resist, to curse Farabundo. Go fuck yourself. Something. Anything. Like in the Mercedes. But Sam stood and Richard automatically followed suit. So much for resistance, he thought. They followed Farabundo and the other troops off the bus. They seemed to be at the junction between the flatland and jungle. A green troop carrier blocked the road. The bobbing heads of canecutters who worked the fields paid absolutely no attention whatsoever to the scene playing out on the highway. He thought to call out to them, but the thought lay fallow, a desperation unuttered. This wasn't the States. The workers would not help. They had been cowed by hundreds of years
of oppression. The two soldiers ushered them into the rear of the troop carrier. A canvas flap came down, extinguishing the outside light. The air inside smelled moldy, almost putrid. Wooden benches were bolted to the floor, facing each other. They sat on one side, Farabundo and his men on the other. The gears mashed and the truck moved, laboriously at first. As the truck gradually picked up speed, Farabundo grinned at them. Not saying anything, just grinning, those obnoxious gold fillings shining. "You're making a mistake," Sam asserted. Farabundo grinned broader. "So is your boss General Rosa." At the name of his boss, Farabundo laughed. "General Rosa doesn't make mistakes. And you don't have a phone to call out the Marines." "Really," Sam coolly replied. Farabundo resumed grinning. The truck had picked up a good head of steam by this time and bucked while going over ruts in the road. They all had to clutch the underside of the benches to keep from sliding from one end to the other. All during this time Farabundo maintained his grin. Sam and Richard stared flatly at him. Richard stared because he hated that damn grin and Farabundo knew it, and continued to grin because of this. What Farabundo didn't know was
that Richard knew for him to grin for so long, especially with the weight of the gold in his mouth, had to hurt. But the longer Richard stared at Farabundo the more he wondered which one of them was dumber. Farabundo or him. Farabundo grinned to annoy them. He stared to keep Farabundo grinning and stared for so long he developed a painful crick in his neck. But he refused to massage it and in his refusal miserably concluded he was the dumber one. It wasn't until the truck came to an abrupt halt and the engine went quiet, that fear renewed its assault in Richard...up until then the game of oneupmanship had kept fear at bay. Now the canvas flap commanded his total attention, and he stared at the canvas covering the rear of the truck and wondered what lay out there. Suddenly all the stories of mass executions came to mind. He shivered a little. He hadn't really believed General Rosa intended on killing them, but now was uncertain. General Rosa was unstable. The little sideshow, the gun at his lips, had proven that much. Never quite believing the old shoe that seconds could last a lifetime, Richard learned, just as he had learned that there was a physical price attached to the shock of self discovery, right there and then that seconds can last a very long time indeed, and during the few seconds it took for the flap to open the fear of what lay out there almost paralyzed him. The moment the flap was
thrown open, the fetid air escaped and cool crisp mountain air entered. His fingers ached from gripping the bench, and the crimp in his neck had traveled up to his temples causing them to throb...but because of being cooped up like this, his sense of smell was heightened and he recognized the mountain air and know they were near Antigua. As they stepped out, prodded by the soldiers, the sunlight momentarily blinded him, and he blinked several times before his vision cleared well enough to see...his car parked off to one side. He knew then that they would leave there alive. And the knowledge that he would live, he and Crista, he and Crista in New York City, made him dizzy and light headed and he giggled at the second thing he saw. The giggles grew until he doubled over in laughter, sides hurting. All bent doubled over, he briefly supposed the release of fear caused the outburst, or pain, or hunger, but most probably it was the absurd object. "What?" Sam asked, an infectious involuntary grin creeping across his face. But he laughed too hard to speak, and pointed a dancing finger at the object. "You've never seen it before?" His head shook: no. "That damn thing is the embodiment of machismo," Sam ex plained.
There was no need for Sam to explain this. Richard had heard of it, even seen black and white grainy pictures in the local newspapers. But he had never really seen it, not up close. But there it sat a hundred meters away. Two soldiers stood at rigid attention beside the absurd object. They were men, Indian, and of average height, but even if they stood nine feet tall they still would have been comically out of proportion when measured against the absurd object. The object served as the entrance to the military compound, and was a sculptured steel army helmet and boots. Like a grotesque joke, the steel sculpture grew out from a concrete pedestal. The helmet, painted jungle green, was the size of a small helicopter. Peaking out from beneath the helmet were a pair of green army boots about the size of a Sherman tank. The steel sculpture dwarfed the guards, towering over them, rendering them comic bit players in General Rosa's own comic drama. That Farabundo found his laughter an affront became instantly apparent when he angrily grabbed the machine gun from one of the soldiers and pointed it in at Richard. "Stop laughing!" he ordered. "Take it easy, Farabundo," Sam cautioned. "And take us to General Rosa. That's your job. Right? So do it." No, No, Richard wanted to scream. I won't laugh. And he straightened upright without so much as a trace of a smile on his
face; which didn't take too much effort. Farabundo wasn't General Rosa. He would shoot. Kill. A jeep waited, smoke trailing from the exhaust. Richard had ridiculed Farabundo's god. Shooting the gringo would displease General Rosa. Maybe later. Next week. Month. In his bed. A knife. Yes. He lowered the gun. "In the jeep," he ordered, "The rear." They complied. Farabundo climbed in next to the driver and harshly issued a command. The driver did a Uturn, and drove. Staying within the compound, the driver followed a concrete fence. Razor sharp barbed wire curled above it. Soldiers loitered along the route. At last he veered away from the fence, and headed toward a bank of trees. The trees quickly turned into a forest. Lush. Dense. The Jeep drove on, following a dirt road. After a few minutes, they entered a clearing. A large house loomed ahead. "Rosa's headquarters," Sam said in English. "I figured," he replied, "What do you think he has in mind?" "A deal." As the Jeep came to a halt outside the house, Sam wondered: what kind of deal? What did General Rosa want that they had?
"Bienvenida a mi casa, Hombres," General Rosa greeted. Although he stood on the porch waiting for them, he had been lounging, and wore bathing trunks and a whitetee shirt. He was as large as Antonio, but unlike Antonio, General Rosa's body was taut, muscles firm. "What do you want?" Sam, speaking English, demanded. "Talk." "You are holding two U.S. Embassy personnel against our will," Sam responded. "Plain stupid." If Sam's statement impressed General Rosa, he didn't show it. Instead he motioned to Farabundo. Farabundo issued an order to the driver of the Jeep. The Jeep backed up, and in a cloud of dust shot forward heading toward the forest. "Come in," he invited, "I have something I want to show you. Something that will change your mind." That General Rosa had expensive taste was evident the moment they entered the house. Either that or he had a good decorator. Richard opted for the latter. He insisted, as he said a good host
does, showing them the house room by room. He pointed out the vaulted ceiling in the living room, sunlight streaming in from the glass panels, from there the gun room; a polished oak cabinet holding various rifles and handguns, onto the three bedrooms, the master bedroom where he winked and pointed at the king size bed, "Sin amor." And on and on. While giving them a grand tour of the house he had appeared friendly, almost graceful even...his strutting machismo gone. But finally Sam had had enough. "Get on with it, Rosa." "Impatience. A gringo failing," he remarked. He crooked a finger. "Follow me. We go to the den and talk. Man to man." Sparsely decorated, the den held a black leather couch, two black leather easy chairs, and a desk and chair. Two young Indian boys sat huddled shoulder to shoulder on the couch. They shared facial features: eyes close together, pinched in nose. And appeared confused and frightened. One wore an Army uniform, the other peasant clothing. Wearing just white shorts, Jorge, a glass in one hand, lounged on one of the easy chairs. "Surprised?" General Rosa asked. It wasn't really a question, but had it been, Richard would have overwhelming responded: YES! But to Sam, Jorge's appearance answered the question on how General Rosa knew they would be on the bus. But Sam ignored Jorge and instead glanced at the kids. "You two are the sons of Chusa?" he asked in Spanish.
Meekly they nodded. "I thought as much," Sam muttered and directed his attention on Jorge. "We speak English," General Rosa ordered while perching on the edge of the desk. His voice had held a harsh command. Although a part of Richard was confused, there was also a part that recognized following Sam's lead. So he stole a glance at him. Sam ignored General Rosa so completely it immediately frightened him. Sam seemed to be staring at Jorge's very soul. "Sam," he said. "We had a deal," Sam, voice emotionless, stated. "Shut up," General Rosa commanded, "You are a fool!" "We had a deal," Sam repeated in the same flat dead tone. For a man of his build General Rosa was surprisingly spry; and like a cat springing at an errant mouse leapt forward and struck Sam across the face with the barrel of a revolver. The gun caught Richard by surprise. One moment General Rosa's hands were empty and the next they held the gun. But he didn't have time to dwell on where the gun had come from. Like a rock Sam dropped to the floor, blood pouring from a large gash on the right side of his face. He bent over to help Sam. Two loud explosions rang out. The noise was deafening in the enclosed space. The air was riff with the acrid odor of spent gunpowder. Half bent over, one hand on Sam's shoulder, he glanced up at the
source of the noise. General Rosa glared down at him. Jorge sat impassive. It was then that he saw the boys. They had slumped sideways one against the other. Blood gushed from their temples. The blood mesmerized him and he thought: Doc, you are right, blood is purple. The thought wavered, then shattered and uncontrollably he started to tremble all over. Dry heaves racked his body. He doubled over and clutched at his stomach. "Pollo Puta," General Rosa sneered. Bent over, gasping for air, he managed to gain a smidgen of self control and sat, legs up against his chest, arms around legs. "Why General Rosa?" he gasped. By this time Sam had stood. He wiped the back of his hand against his cheek, sponging away the blood. The moment he removed his hand a new stream of blood appeared. "Jorge, we had a deal," he coldly replied. Jorge yawned. "You are such a bore. Deals come and deals go. We make a new deal." "We had a deal," Sam repeated. General Rosa said. "You now have a deal with me." "Jorge and I had a deal," Sam repeated. And even to Richard he sounded like a broken record. "A deal with Jorge is a deal with me," General Rosa continued, and laughed cruelly, "He is the enemy of the people. It is good for the people to have an enemy. Good for Jorge. Good
for me. Good for Guatemala. Jorge controls the peasants. I control the upper class. Everybody is happy. You see?" "I see nothing," Sam replied. "We had a deal." In one long stride General Rosa stepped forward and pointed the gun directly at Sam's forehead. Sam bore through General Rosa at Jorge. "You're not going to shoot me. Or Richard. So put the gun down." "Your deal is dead! Look at it! Go ahead! Your deal is dead," General Rosa screamed, his face contorting into ugly lines. "We will have a new deal or I will shoot you! I am in charge here! You are not! You understand?" Sam breathed in deep, slowly expelled the breath and motioned by raising a hand. General Rosa backed away, his eyes steady on Sam. At the desk, he lay the gun aside and opened a drawer and came out with a handkerchief and calmly walked over and handed it to Sam. To stem the flow of blood, Sam pressed the handkerchief against the gash on his forehead. "Good. We can all be friends," he said, controlling his voice, "Anger. No good. We make new deal. I tell you what I want. You listen. All right?" "Sure," Sam replied in a steady voice. "I only want a little thing," he explained. "I want your government to restore the satellite transmission for all the Movie Channels."
Incredible, Richard thought and blurted the word out. "What?" General Rosa asked, the word unfamiliar to him in English. He uttered, "You did this for movies? Movies!" "You expected Rosa to ask that the U.S. restore Guatemalan aid?" Sam commented. "Yes, no, hell...movies!" "I care nothing about the money the U.S. has cut off because of this stupid Bernard thing." Suddenly Richard understood. General Rosa controlled the military. The military controlled the media and airwaves. The Guatemalan cable company charged a monthly fee. The revenue generated millions of dollars monthly. The money funded not only General Rosa but Jorge. "For movies," he muttered. "You will talk to State," General Rosa said to Sam, ignoring Richard. "I will certainly talk to State," Sam replied. Richard was appalled at the mere thought of Sam interceding with State on General Rosa's behalf. And he shot Sam a hard look, ready to protest. But Sam stared at General Rosa but was actually staring at Jorge. Jorge sat, silent, a soft smile on his face. The reality of Sam's cold hard stare slapped Richard in the face and he thought: Sam is staring at two dead men. At first the
thought thrilled him. He tasted the sweet dish of revenge. Just as suddenly the thought sickened him. General Rosa and Jorge. Both human beings. What was he thinking? Had he become like them? Like Sam? He stood, legs wobbly, and walked out of the room. General Rosa let him go, and why not. They were within the compound. Where could he go? Outside to wait for Sam. He did. A hard driving rain fell. He stood in the rain, clothing drenched within moments. It felt good, almost clean. He wanted to go home. Pack a few bags. Pick up Crista and leave Guatemala forever.
How long did he stand in the rain? Long enough for a good size puddle of water to gather at his feet. Eventually Farabundo pulled up in a Jeep. Sam and General Rosa came out and stood on the porch. Somebody had taped a white gauze bandage over the gash on Sam's forehead. General Rosa said something and Sam nodded. General Rosa smiled. Sam walked to the Jeep and got in. Richard followed. They were both quiet as Farabundo took them to the Toyota. Wordlessly, they exited the Jeep and climbed into the Toyota. Richard left the compound and drove the Toyota at a steady twenty miles an hour through the pouring rain, staring straight ahead at the highway, afraid to look at Sam or speak to him. Afraid of what he might say. What he might accuse Sam of planning. They were about eight kilometers outside Antigua, when Sam whispered something Richard failed to catch. "What?" he asked. "How does Jorge get in and out of the compound undetected?" Richard shrugged, thinking what did it matter. "The house is set back away from the compound," Sam
continued in a whisper. "What?" "Which means Jorge comes and goes through the forest. Probably has a Jeep waiting." "What the hell you mumbling about?" he angrily asked. "Thinking out loud," he replied. You're going to kill them, he thought, that's what you're planning. He drove on, the rain pounding at the car. Just sneak in there and shoot them both. Or will it be a helicopter raid? Marines? No. Just one man. You or somebody else. You. What did you tell Doc? State was out of the loop. You were on your own. Water dripped from where the convertible top met the wind shield and collected on the steering wheel. He was soaking wet from standing in the rain, but still unconsciously he brushed at the water on the steering wheel. Will you lay their bodies next to the dead boys? Four bodies on a couch. Just four people chatting. Or leave them where they fell? "I need your car," Sam said. So you can drive back and kill them. "Why?" he asked. "I left my car at the Embassy. I need a change of clothes
and some sleep." "Stay at my place," he offered, "I'll loan you clean clothing." "Richard!" "What!" he screamed. "Nothing. I will take a taxi." Silent, he drove past San Felipe, and arrived outside his house a few minutes later. Celia must have heard the car drive up because she stood outside the car port, an umbrella in her hands. "Take the car, Sam," he said. As he got out, Sam slid over behind the wheel and drove away. He stood watching the car while Celia yelled to come inside. It's raining. Come inside. When the Toyota was gone, he followed her inside. She held the umbrella, shielding out the rain. Once inside, she ushered him toward the bedroom. "You are all wet. You change clothes. I will fix you a drink and some food. Men." Tiredly he nodded and woodenly walked on stick legs belonging to a puppet to the bedroom and shed the wet clothes as if shedding skin and climbed under the covers. The bed became a sort of sanctuary and the covers a shield from General Rosa. But even in bed, warm, and shielded, he couldn't shake the image of the two dead boys nor Sam driving away in the car. The bed
creaked and Celia sat there on the edge. She had fixed a glass of Bourbon. He finished it in three swallows. But the images stayed. "People will talk," he feebly joked. She lay a hand on his forehead. Hot. "You have fever," She explained, "My religion say I must help the sick. You stay. Rest. I bring some soup." Sleep was the drug he sought, not bourbon or soup. And he escaped into it. If he dreamt, he awoke without memory of the dreams. It was dark outside. Rain fell, beating on the roof. The lamp on the bed stand burned and Celia sat on a chair reading a bible. "What time?" he hoarsely asked. "Eight." He came awake in blinks. His right side ached. As did his head. "Celia. Orange Juice and aspirin." Without question, she stood and left the room. While she was gone, he stared at the ceiling mentally replaying the events of the day. General Rosa and the dead brothers wouldn't go away. The brothers were dead, and dead was dead. And General Rosa, alive, an unslayable beast. And Sam. State. Out of the loop. Sam was acting outside the loop. He could stop him if it wasn't too late. Call State. Report what had happened. But would they believe him? No. Sam was C.I.A. But Sam had said that Doc had an angel in the
government. A very important man. Who? General Rosa? Jorge? The President? Well, he savagely thought, Doc had sucked him into getting involved and he intended on finding Doc and squeezing from him who his angel was. Then he would find the angel and press the bastard into calling State to stop Sam. A part of him said the hell with it, let Jorge and General Rosa go down. Certainly they deserved it. And... It all seemed so impossible. Celia returned. She handed over a glass of orange juice and two aspirin. He washed one down with the other. She patiently sat on the chair waiting for him to finish the orange juice. "Crista called. I told her you were sick. She coming." "How long ago?" "About ten minutes ago." She should be here soon, he thought. "Go home, Celia," he said, "Call a taxi. Take the money from my desk. Go home." "But you are sick." "Was. Better now. Go home to your family. And thanks." A doubtful look on her face. "Unless you want to see a naked gringo." She wordlessly left the bedroom. Fifteen minutes later he had showered and dressed. Although his side still ached, the throbbing in his temples had eased
somewhat. Celia had emptied the contents from his wet and dirty clothes onto the nightstand. He took two Valium from the bottle and sucked on them while going to the window to search for Crista's Mercedes. It wasn't raining so much as misting. A thick mist. The mist hugged Aqua. He thought about Doc. Where to find him. At this time of night, Gus's seemed the likeliest place. As cars passed, headlights flashing across the window, he suddenly cursed. What the fuck! What the fuck! Finally he could wait no longer and decided to walk to Gus's. Crista had a key and she could let herself in. He went to the closet and donned a yellow raincoat and took an umbrella. Still hopeful, he ran to the window and cursed once more before leaving the house. The light mist continued. Little pools of water had collected between the crevices of the cobblestones turning the street and sidewalks muddy. The streets were deserted and not even a stray dog wandered them. As he walked, head down against the mist, little gobs of mud clung to his shoes until by the time he reached the Plaza, they were covered with mud. Except for the usual dark masses huddled against each other asleep, the Plaza was void of people. Even the steel door to the armory was closed. The only sign of life was a threadbare light shining out from the window of the police station. He headed for Gus's. The street ahead, like behind, was
completely void of people. Gus's was closed. He pounded on the door, wondering what the hell was going on. No answer. He pounded harder, shouting out Gus's name. The cry echoed along the street, detached, a voice riding the falling mist. He left in disgust, retracing his route, searching for a taxi as he went. He walked all the way and was soaked by the time he returned home. Crista greeted him at the door with a glass of Bourbon. He kissed her, a light brush across the mouth. As he backed away from her, he swallowed the bourbon down. "Let's go," he said and set the glass on the floor. "Richard, you are all wet. Come inside first." "No time," he replied. "I need to go to Doc's house. Sam has my car. I will explain on the way." Efficiency her forte, she didn't argue. He drove. The mist became a steady downpour, making it difficult to see the road. He explained as they went. About Doc. Sam. General Rosa. Jorge. The dead brothers. And the movies. Most of all he ranted about the movies. She listened, patiently, quietly, never once uttering a word. By the time the story was told, he felt drained, almost as if, he imagined, a Catholic felt after confessing. And he envied Celia and Ruth their faith. Above all else, they had that. He had nothing. Crista sensed his distress and laid a comforting hand on his knee.
No, not nothing, he thought, he had Crista.
Crista had never visited Doc's hut and exclaimed the moment they walked in, "Doc lives here?" Richard stood by the bed surveying the room. There had
always been an order to the clutter, but now papers lay strewn everywhere, cluttering even the tiny passageway Doc had carved out between the bed the desk and the door. Doc was gone. Richard felt this and, hands shoved in his pockets, discouragingly nodded, and sat on the bed. But Doc was his only hope, and he stubbornly refused to believe it. "We wait for him." The bed creaked as she sat next to him. "Richard." "Just a few minutes," he wearily replied. "If Doc doesn't come we can leave. For good. Fly out tomorrow. Just pack a few things. Underwear and such. Bear with me Crista." He was rambling, and continued for several minutes not really saying anything. Crista kissed his lips, stopping the flow of chatter. Sex is a funny thing, he thought as an ember of passion began to burn. She gently pushed him back on the bed and kissed his forehead.
"Poor Richard," she murmured. She kissed his nose. "So tired. Just lay there." Slowly she undressed him, whispering and murmuring all the while. We can't leave tomorrow. In a few weeks. Three maybe four. But let's not worry about this now. When he lay naked, she straddled him and deftly shed her dress. It cascaded around her ankles and she kicked it out from under her. "Tomorrow," he insisted, staring up at her. "Hush Richard," she murmured and lay next to him. "Crista," he said, "We leave tomorrow." She rolled over on her side so she faced away from him and brought to bear her ass against his cock. "Crista? "Fuck me Richard. Fuck me in the ass." "Crista," he said, but found his body instinctively sliding closer and closer until the folds of her ass closed around his cock. "Fuck me," she whispered in German, "Fuck me Richard!" He entered her. "Oh yes Richard!" All at once a suffocating desire to get up and run gripped him. Just run, legs pumping up to chest, until he was far away
from right now. But he couldn't run. Crista lay next to him. He had just entered her and her thin fingers in anticipation clutched the pillow behind her. He was trapped. The feeling to flee was replaced by an urge to hurt her. The urge overwhelmed him. He could smell it. A primal urge to cause her enough pain to hear her cry out: Stop! He raised his face so he could see the weather beaten ceiling beams and above them the corrugated metal roof. A bird, perhaps Buzzard, sounding like tiny pebbles, scampered across the roof. He withdrew from within her, sickened. "What is the matter," she said not asked. "We're never leaving together," he replied. "This is all just an act. Isn't it?" As if his response meant nothing to her, she pressed the folds of her ass against his cock. "Stop," he said, "We're never leaving. It's all an act. Your whole life is an act. Tell me I am wrong?" "No Richard," she said pulling away. She rolled over and faced him. "You are right." He leaned up on one elbow and slapped her with such force her head rocked back. "Yes Richard, hit me again," she, voice husky, replied. Disgusted, he stood. "Go home, Crista," he asserted, "Go home and find somebody
else to offer you penance. Or go see a shrink." "You are such a little boy," she said. "Right," he scornfully replied, and started dressing. "Richard, don't do that. Come here." He was buttoning his shirt by this time. "Go home to the Ambassador." "You really are a little boy," she snorted. She stood and pulled the dress up over her. "I will go home to the Ambassador. He is a man. While you and Sam were out playing save the Indians, the Ambassador was actually doing something constructive. This is the difference between you and him, Richard." Puzzled, he asked her what she meant. "The Plaza Park. The Ambassador, Germany, is funding the renovation. The Ambassador pledged a million Marks. The surrounding Plaza and the park will be beautiful when finished. Like in Europe. Those ugly concrete benches gone replaced by wrought iron and polished wood benches. The overgrowth cut out, and maintained to avoid further overgrowth. The fountain restored to its original grandeur. The Ambassador is doing this for the many German tourists who visit Antigua. This way they can feel at home." He laughed so harshly that the pride and joy on her face from telling her story fell away. And he saw how she would look when old. An embittered woman.
"You're right," he replied, "The park will be beautiful. Like you. And like you it will be another trophy on the Ambassador's wall. But as for the German tourist. There is a woman, her name is Alexia, who might differ with you on the park. You see, the park is for the people, not just the German tourists. The children selling hand crafts. The bums. The drunks. The lovers. For everybody. Even the homeless." She stepped forward and kissed him on the mouth. "My idealist." "Go home Crista." "Yes, I go." "By the way," he said, "I am a fool, I admit as much. Just a boy. An American little boy. But don't underestimate Sam or other Americans like him. If so you may discover...well, you may discover what by now General Rosa has discovered." "You talk crazy now." "Yes. I am crazy right now." "Goodbye Richard." "More acting," he said, "Go. Go. Go." She did, leaving him alone with Doc's clutter. He sat on the bed, drained. It seemed like he didn't have the energy to go on. He lay back. Only for a moment. Soon, he would get up and start the long walk home.
Richard awoke to Lt. Oscar's face. At first he thought he was dreaming him. The Lt. kept saying, a hand poking: wake up, Richard, wake up, Richard. After awhile, he realized he wasn't dreaming and slapped at the poking hand. The Lt.looked down at him, the ridiculous mustache grinning. "A dog in the morning." Daylight streamed in through the hut's only window. He checked his watch. Eight. He shook his head while sitting up. "What the hell are you doing here?" The Lt. shrugged his shoulders. "I've been here for an hour." "An hour!" he echoed in surprise. He stood and ran a hand through his hair. "Doing what?" "Searching through Doc's desk. I found this." He held out a sheet of paper for him to read. He reached for it, but the Lt. pulled his hand away. "Not so fast Richard. Do you know what has happened?" "I could guess," he said, and sighed.
"General Rosa and Jorge. Both dead," He said, "The official government version is they killed each other. General Rosa is now an honored hero of the Government. Jorge is now an honored hero of the people. Two heroes." "And Sam?" "Sam? What does Sam have to do with two heroes. Sam is the U.S. Embassy information officer, no." "Yes," he lied. "Ah," he said, and waved the paper out before me, "This paper says otherwise. Doc wrote it." "You going to let me read it, or just talk." He shoved the paper at him. "Here, read read." It was in Doc's scrawl, and like most doctor's, his writing was difficult to read. So he went over by the light of the window. The letter was addressed to Sam. "Jorge is dead. So is General Rosa. Sam, either you or your C.I.A cronies killed them both. I expected no less. I am sure Jorge was tortured before he was killed and you found out he was my son; or maybe you knew this all along. How you must loathe me. I had a bastard son who was no better then General Rosa; worse, at least General Rosa never pretended to be anything but what he was: a butcher, but Jorge...enough. Loathe me if you must. I protected him because he was my son but also because he allowed me to save the children. I don't expect you to understand this. I
do expect you to come for me. But I am old and for the few years I have left the mountains are now my home. So you will find nothing but this letter. Sam I want to hate you, but can't. In murdering my son you have lifted a great burden from my shoulders." Doc had signed the letter. He handed it over to Lt. Oscar. "Now what?" They stood inches apart. He took a pack of Payasos from his pocket and held them up so the silly dancing laughing clown mocked Richard. He laughed and took out a cigarette, lit it, with his hand shaded the match and lit the edge of the letter. As the flames licked up the paper, he dropped it to the floor. Within seconds the paper burned leaving a charred mess. He stamped on it, grinding his shoe back and forth, laughing. "Guatemalans love the sense of the dramatics, no." "Yes," he replied. "You look sick. Come Richard. I take you home. Celia nurse you. Nursing men is what Guatemalan women are good at, both in spirit and body."
A month later Richard sat on the terrace eating breakfast. A clear blue sky spread over Aqua. He hadn't left the house in this time and had spent a full three weeks in bed with dysentery...which he later figured he had caught at Monterrico from the unwashed neck of the Coke bottle...the Coke he had drunk without a straw. The first two weeks he was feverish and slept, only waking to use the toilet or to have Celia spoon feed him soup. Slowly he healed enough to sit up, and spent the time resting and catching up on long overdue correspondence. Letters to friends in the States and such. Sam had called several times, but he had Celia tell him he wasn't home. Sam finally stopped calling. He knew that sooner or later he would have to go to the Embassy and clear out his desk. He would see Sam there, and didn't have so much as a clue as to what he would say to him. He had expected Crista to call, but she never did. A part of him, the part where a piece of his heart bitterly rested, lay fallow and sad. His only companion during this time, aside from Celia, was
Lt. Oscar. He stopped by every evening for conversation and chess, and through him he kept abreast of events. The Lt.'s assessment in the hut had proved correct. General Rosa, amid great pomp and ceremony, was declared a national hero. Posters of Jorge were pasted on the walls at the university and in the ghettos. He too was a hero. He had also done a great deal of soulsearching. But he did this soulsearching without the aid of Valium, or for that matter selfinduced stress or boyish beliefs. Doc. Sam. Life. And had decided to stay in Guatemala a while longer. He had the severance pay from the Embassy so money wasn't the question. When he told Lt. Oscar this, the Lt. Replied, twirling the ends of his silly mustache for dramatics, that Guatemala, like a beautiful woman, had him in her grasp. Richard had smiled a condescending smile at him. But perhaps he was right. He had first made the decision while ill. But slowly as his mind cleared the thought had become rather frightening. He was fiftysix years old. What would he do after the severance pay ran out? He quickly realized that he could live well enough off his combined pensions. But was just living enough? Or would he in the end become what he had tried to escape from when moving here? Would he become an American version of Edwardo? Sit at Gus's and bitch or glory the old days. Would he don a frayed straw hat and a cane and walk around town...eventually becoming the kind of
local character that people gossiped about during polite cocktail conversation? The thought worried at him, gnawing. Relief came in the form of Foster. He don't know how, but Foster had learned of his departure from the Embassy, and had stopped by when he was well enough to sit up and offered him a job in his export business. When he was well enough of course. He had replied that he would consider the offer, but inwardly the offer was a relief. But out of everything he had feared and thought about over the past month, it was Doc who came to mind as he stared at Aqua. He was somewhere up there. The rainy season had ended. A hot dry climate had moved in. The black water would follow. The mosquitoes. Malaria. Cholera. He wished Doc well. He, out of all of them, had found, as Teresa had put it, his safe clean place.