Pan-American Highway, Quito.
6:22 am . . .
As our caravan heads out towards Seniorita Alonzo’s casa we’ve all squished into Ricky’s Hummer. She lives near a landmark called the Virgin of Quito, that sits at the top of a hill called El Panecillo—the little loaf of bread. Juan says it has the best view of the city of Quito.
It doesn’t take Ricky long to distill the important details from the fluff. He starts peppering us with questions.
“Where’s the tox screen?”
“They always test for toxins in the body. Like poisons, drugs, whatever. Where is it?”
Mr. Green hands him the entire file. “I don’t really know what I’m looking for. This doctor was spooked, no shit.”
Ms. Josephine narrows her eyes at Mr. Green. “Oh, sorry, Ms. Josephine. I’ve got the vocabulary of a sailor.”
I don’t know how she does that.
Ricky flips on the interior light as we drive, bringing the glossy post-mortem photographs to within inches of his face. He squints, “Ligature marks on the insides of the wrists, and at the ankles.”
I didn’t see that.
“You saw it, Jack. You just didn’t know what you were looking at. Look there,” he says, pointing at the slightly discolored marks on the little girls wrists.”
They tied her up?
“That’s right,” he says, and from the way the ligature marks lay at a slight angle, I’d guess . . . ” He holds his left arm out about 45 degrees. “They tied her like this. Ankles and wrists. I guess that makes sense, if you’re going to drink her blood multiple times.”
Mr. Green pointed at one of the close-up shots of the wounds, which are just hundreds of black indentations and minced flesh. “Hector said that there were at least three sets of distinctly different dental impressions, maybe four.”
Ricky scratches his head, “They look, mismatched. In fact,” he leans in again, “ . . . if I was to . . . those look like a child’s impressions.” Then he look up. “Wait . . . ”
Mr. Josephine finishes his thought, “There’s children involved.”
Yeah, I tell them. That’s what Hector told us. That the attackers weren’t only adults in some cult, but children, too. Children killing other children . . . slowly.
This might as well just replace all the nightmares I’ve ever had. This can be the new default horrible shit that my subconscious defaults to whenever it wants to screw me out of a good night’s sleep.
Mr. Green leans back, sighing tiredly, “This is probably some kind of satanic cult, the doc was saying. And they have all sorts of religions around here. Especially in the jungles. We might even be dealing with a small tribe, or a family that’s been living in the bush for a while. They’re not beyond that kind of thing down here.”
Ricky continues reading the reports, occasionally handing it to Mr. Green to translate, “What’s that?”
“Oh, that’s the anticoagulant that Hector was talking about. Says they’d need to have synthesized an impossible amount to do this. He said it would be prohibitively expensive, even for a research program.”
“Is this for real? I mean, am I reading this right?” Ricky asks, having a hard time believing what he’s reading.
Mr. Green shrugs, “This guy checks out. He’s a smalltime doctor now, but he worked for the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, and did work at the Anthropology Museum. He’s just kind of gone off the grid since he lost his wife to cancer a few years back.”
Ricky slowly exhales, his face locked in a look that’s somewhere between perplexed and overwhelmed. Taking out his phone, he places a call. 20 seconds later he is talking to Billtruck, “Hey, I’m going to send out some photographs, as well as the autopsy reports from this victim.”
“From da child,” Ms. Josephine corrected him.
“Right,” Ricky said respectfully, “the child.”
“ . . . send them when your ready. Hal has intercepted some troubling phone communications originating from the Vatican, back to Quito.”
To where? I ask loud enough for Billtruck to hear me.
“ . . . you heard of a church called the Jesuit church La Compañía?”
Mr. Green looks over at Mr. Blue, who nods, “Si, es una iglesia in Quito. Lo se.” Mr. Green nods to us.
“We know the place,” Ricky answers.
“ . . . well, put it on your list of places to stay the Hell away from. That’s their catholic HQ, if you know what I mean. And the anonymous voice, he’s there calling the shots.”
“Alright,” Ricky says, “I’m sending the pics now. Give me a heads-up in a couple hours.”
While Ricky’s sending the pictures, I see Mr. Green whispering something to our driver, Mr. Blue.
I lean over to Mr. Green, “What’s up?”
“When we get settled for the night, Mr. Blue and I are going to have a look around the Jesuit church. Check out the security in case we need to hit the place. He told me they just closed it for renovations, all of the sudden.”
I nod and then glance over at Ms. Josephine. She’s looking at the only picture of the little girl when she was alive. It’s a grainy old photo that shows a small child holding a chicken that’s obviously trying to get free. She’s smiling, struggling, the picture capturing her in the space of time between laughing and breathing. Her eyes are so bright and animated that they light up the otherwise old, fading photograph.
Down here, time happens quicker. That photo, it’s probably only a year or two old, but it might as well be some antique that came out of a recovered trunk at the bottom of the ocean. It could be a hundred years old.
This little girl has only been dead for a few days, and already she’s become something nostalgic and withered.
I have to fix this. I have to save whoever is left to save, and kill the rest. I don’t know what I’ll do when the moment comes, but if you drink the blood of an innocent little girl who had a beautiful life in front of her, then you get the darkness.
That’s your present.
I can be the monster I fear is inside of me. I will be to these monsters.
Maria Eduardo-Mendez Gonzalez, age six, died by exsanguination. Those that killed her . . . they’re next.