Las Montañas Hotel.
11:01 am . . .
Everyone else is bouncing around, getting bags packed, gear prepped, and praying to their respective gods. I’m so tired I could sleep standing, in hot coals, naked. I took a hot shower and watched as the invisible grime of persistent dismal melancholy washed away. Death mixed with children is disheartening.
Add that the kids are being slowly devoured, drained of their life-force, and it’s absolutely unimaginable.
I let the hot water rain down on my back. As soon as I got used to it, I turned it hotter. Then hotter. Then up to the point where it was almost scalding. This is my penance. My self-torture. My own kind of personal torment and crucification.
I need to suffer more.
I have to be held accountable.
My sin was my lust for a woman I knew before I forgot everything that caused all this.
So I let the nearly boiling water rain down on my voodoo marked skin. My tattooed, sometimes dead, sometimes cold skin suit. I’m living long pork, slowly cooking. A walking, talking brisket.
I get out, looking at my face in the mirror. As I shave both my face and my head, I look at the casual transformation into a different person. I’m cleaner, now. I’m me 2.0. Maybe I’m not Todd Steele handsome. But Angela . . . she saw something in me.
This tired face.
My eyes that have seen way more than I’ll ever remember.
My relatively symmetrical nose that seems to have only been punched out of place a few times.
A shower and a shave, and I’m new and improved. I’m ready to take your company public. I could argue your case in court. I can get you financing on that house, whether you can afford it or not. I can be anyone.
And as I look at the me in the mirror, I finally get it. I’m average. I’m just a face in a crowd. I’m not the guy that the ladies swoon over. Or the man that the store clerks watch to see if I’m shoplifting. No, I’m just that guy on a bus, or in the supermarket, or walking down the crowded street. The one you don’t pay attention to.
The guy we all don’t notice . . . just background.
I’m the actor in the back of the scene. Screen filler.
I’m the painting that’s next to the really impressive, famous paintings.
I give my face a splash of water, get the rest of the inhumanity off my face, watch it swirl its way around the sink basin. Oh, look at that, the sink and the toilet still flush the same way they do in Texas. Debunked that myth.
I throw on my fatigues, a black pair that Ricky got for me at StartaWar.com, or wherever it is he shops. And then I fell into the surprisingly comfortable bed. As my eyes close and I feel nothing but the rhythmic staccato of the ceiling fan blowing down on me I can think only of her.
Angela, in my mind, she’s curled-up in a little ball next to me. She’s not talking, or making even the tiniest of noises. She’s just quiet and cute and warm and perfect.
And I’m out.
3:59 pm . . .
Juan shakes me awake. “Levantate, Yack. Es la hora!”
Wake-up, Jack. It’s time.
Groggily I sit up, coughing a couple times, my throat dry as if I’d been eating rolls of toilet paper in my sleep—that cheap, recycled kind.
“This is it, isn’t it, Juan,” I say groggily.
He shrugs, “Ahora o nunca.”
Now or never.
I throw on a brown shirt, a black vest with about 50 different pockets, and I notice Juan pulling one of the small Heckler & Koch, MP-5 Submachine guns out of a black nylon pouch. He carefully slides back the cocking mechanism on the upper-left side of the weapon. He seems satisfied and lets the chamber close with a clean metallic clink!
He fits six long, banana-shaped magazines into his vest, jiggling each one several times to make sure they are secure.
“That’s one-hundred and eighty rounds, Juan. Are you sure that’s enough?” I ask sarcastically.
He looks at me, his eyebrows pinched in the middle, considering my words, “You’re right, Yack.” And then he grabs two more magazines and fits them into place.
I was kidding.
He picks up a duffel bag and laughs at me like I just don’t get it. Like the magnitude of all of this has somehow escaped me. “Yack . . . we’re going to kill chupacabra.”
It might not be a chupa-cabra, I tell him as I gather my bags up.
“Vampire, Dracula, it doesn’t matter. It’s killing children. This is the first time since I can remember that I’m doing something positive with my skills. I’ve killed for other people’s money. Other people’s principles. Now, I will kill for the sake of us. For the people.”
And with that we took one last look at our room, hoping we’ll be returning to it tonight or tomorrow. There is a very real chance that we don’t all make it back from this. If this is all some elaborate trap, we’re walking right into it. If the 23 Evils have engineered all of this to lure us into a pitched battle, or an ambush, they’ll have a decisive advantage.
But then I’m reminded of something that Detective Todd Steele always says on his way into a fight. He says, ‘The only thing better than ambushing your enemy, is knowing when they’re trying to ambush you.’ He theorizes that it makes you almost omnipotent on the battlefield.
Sure, he’s a fictional character who lives out a thousand adventures a month, saying all the right things. Of course he knows all kinds of super-ninja fighting stuff that no one human could possibly learn in five lifetimes. But that doesn’t mean old detective Steele can’t teach us a thing or two.
Knock, knock, knock!
We hear a pounding at the door followed by Mr. Green’s gruff voice, “Let’s roll, gents. Vamos!”
As we leave I wrap my knuckles against the black wooden threshold a couple of times, just for good luck. When we get into the hallway, Juan says, “I thought you didn’t believe in suerte?”
I don’t, I tell him. But it can’t hurt.