Hotel Antonio, Quito.
1:37 pm . . .
Since it’s fairly clear that father Pete and the rest of his catholic hooligans don’t want us to go anywhere near Cotopaxi, or even out of Quito for that matter, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.
Mr. Green figures the trip will take us about two hours, maybe more if traffic gets ugly. We left the bar after we ate, ascending the creaking stairs to our rooms for a more private atmosphere. Ricky turned on a few small white noise emitters and laid them up against the window and door to disrupt anyone’s attempts to listen in on our conversation.
We were now functioning under the assumption that we were under surveillance.
We discussed father Pete’s veiled, not-so-veiled, threats. And the thing I don’t get is, if they’re all catholic emissaries, even if from as far away as Rome, why would they try to stifle our progress? I mean, they’re religious bureaucrats. If we actually were some humanitarian aid organization, wouldn’t it behoove them to work with us? To all come together to solve this thing?
“Obviously,” Ricky says as he packs his bags, “they have other designs for the Evils.”
Mr. Green, glancing through a small slit in the window curtains, explains, “When you’re finished interrogating a prisoner, you have only a few choices to make. You can let him go. You can try and turn him. Or you can kill him. If you choose the third option, you grab the guy, and you take him on a walk . . . alone. Just you and him.”
He turns back to us as we get our gear ready for travel, “See, two can keep a secret if one of them is dead. And the jungle tells no tales.”
I’m not sure I follow your semi-frightening analogy. That was an analogy, right?
On speakerphone, Billtruck chimes in, “The Vatican wants to handle this problem in-house. They don’t want it getting out. And they certainly don’t want any outside interference.”
“Billtruck,” Ricky asks, “did you get anything new on the hot spots when you did a satellite pass? Anything geographically interesting?”
“Everything looks normal. In Quito, the average temperature and rainfall is in accordance with the nineteen-year statistics. The interference could have come from a number of sources: transformers, T-three towers, electric generators I suppose. Hal is looking into it.”
For a while we did everything except mention the child that we all just witnessed. The bite marks and the inhumanity of his blood-drained body.
Finally, Ms. Josephine broke the barrier of discomfort. “Dat young boy, Juan-Carlos, do you tink dat whoever did dis took da effort to bring ’im to da highway and dump ’im? Did ’e escape? Was ‘e tryin’ to get ’elp? ’ow,” she asked, taking a sad breath, “ . . . did dat poor child get dere?”
“My money says we’ll find another child’s gone missing,” Mr. Green says. “I figure they don’t want to crap in their own backyard, so they’ll take the dead out of town and do a swap when the time is right. Dump the kid . . . grab another and head back. When it’s convenient.”
When it’s convenient, I echoed. How awful is this?
Mr. Green lowered his head, “Sorry. Not trying to be insensitive. Just my nature.”
And then it hits me, “Like at dusk, at some out of the way old chicken ranch? Seniorita Alonzo’s place?”
“ . . . Cotopaxi is hot,” Billtruck advises. “The majority of the first missing children were disappearing from around there. Maybe they’re branching out. Maybe they’re thirsty. And the volcano, it’s ornery. Like an angry kid who doesn’t get his way. And it’s about due to pop it’s top . . . so be careful.”
“Alright, then,” Mr. Green concludes. “Everyone put your heads down for a few hours. Try and sleep a bit so we can think with clear minds. We’ll leave at dusk, when we have the best chance of beating traffic.”
And the catholic mercenaries, I add.
He nods, “Yeah . . . and the mercenaries.”
We all headed to our rooms to get some rest, quietly considering what lay ahead of us. I set my head down on my pillow and pulled out Angela’s letter. I sniff it almost as a matter of habit, and although it’s not near as prominent after being in this environment, I can still pick up the faint hint of apples and cinnamon, maybe even a bit of vanilla.
I take my time pulling the letter from the blue envelope, as if this is the first time I am to read her words. My eyes follow every arch and curve of her letters, savoring every part of this. I’m trying to imagine what she’s doing at this exact moment.
Is she thinking of me thinking of her?
Or am I out of sight, out of mind?
Am I the actor, and she the audience, or is it the other way around?
Juan, who I’m sharing a room with, comes back after gassing up the Hummers and checking the more discretionary equipment that we’ve brought with us. How we ever got through customs with a plane full of weapons I’ll never know. Matter of fact, I don’t remember the plane even being searched.
Something tells me that with a handshake full of hundred-dollar bills, you can bring just about whatever you could possibly want across the border.
“Son lleno, los vehiculos,” he says.
I guess they’re full. This Spanish, I’m picking it up much quicker than I thought I would. I haven’t been here a day, and yet I’m finding it possible to understand most of what they’re saying.
“Estamos listo para salir.”
We’re ready to leave.
“Thanks, Juan. I mean . . . Gracias,” I say as I fold Angela’s letter back up. Part of me wants so much to call and talk to her. To hear her voice. To listen to the way her laugh infects her soft voice. But then I might have to tell her what we’re actually doing down here, and I don’t think I have the stomach for that.
I place the envelope back in the duffel bag next to my bed and let my eyes slowly close. Soon, we will face the worst parts of evil . . . on their own home turf.
“Could be worse,” Juan says as he lays down. “We could be in Detroit.”
I’ve never been to Detroit.
“Mi hermano, he lives there. Es un giant gutter. Worse than Mexico City. Don’t go.”
And those were the last words I heard as I faded out. At least, until the gunfire started.