I wondered if this was a riddle and how I could pit my soul, along with Alma’s against the soul of her spirit animal. I heard the faint chimes from the clock and decided to join Hèctor and Alma for dinner. I entered the dining room. Alvarez sat at the head of the table. Already half of the bottle of wine was gone.
“Emilio, my friend, I see you have decided to join me, after all.” He seemed in a good mood. He poured a glass of wine for me and filled his own glass to the brim. “Alma won’t be joining us. She laid down on the bed and I just couldn’t wake her up. She was in one of her dreams… all of those nervous movements and twitches and the strange little grunts she makes.”
“Is she alright? Maybe you should wake her up.” I tried to sound casual.
“Oh yes, she is fine.” He held his glass up and intimated a toast, then drank heartily. Alvarez licked his lips and added with a sly smile. “Aguila, you must have worn her out.“
His knowing we made love and the overly friendly attitude made me very uncomfortable. No matter how amiable and candid my host was I felt ashamed and self-disappointed and a bit like his puppet.
I was glad when Maria Terèsa entered the dining room, looked at Alvarez and me and removed Alma place setting. She returned a minute later and served us our soup.
“I would like you to join me tomorrow morning.”
“No, I have been thinking of what happened to El Cid. It may be just a matter of time before that damn jaguar comes back for Athena.”
“You can handle a rifle, can you not? I have an old Enfield. It shoots straight enough.”
I took a swallow of wine. “You want to hunt it?”
“Of course. Not for sport, but to kill it. I’ll stake out a goat, it will return to El Cid’s grave. Those damn cats can’t resist the smell of blood.”
“What about los indios? Don’t they believe the jaguar is a god?”
“They also believe in the Great Anaconda. Ppsst…” He answered with an airy chuckle, “So, what of it? If they don’t like what I do, they can leave El Paradiso. They’re too afraid to, their silly gods keep them right here, for me.”
Maria Terèsa entered the dining room carrying a tray with our coffee and fruit. She heard everything. Even though she kept her expression inscrutable I could feel her distain.
Alvarez said, “Isn’t that so, bruja?” He looked over to me, “The Great Anaconda? I’ve killed enough of them. One shot, they’re dead, not much of a god…hay? Jaguars too, over the years, I’ve killed maybe eight or nine.”
Maria Terèsa shook her head.
“Bruja Maria, what is the matter?”
“Señor, you may destroy the flesh of the animal, but you must respect its spirit and power.”
“Must I? I will trust this.” He patted his side where he usually wore his pistol.
Maria Terèsa muttered something in Quechuan and left the room.
“So tomorrow, we will hunt the jaguar,” said Alvarez.
After my talk with Leòn, I really didn’t want to hunt the jaguar. “I don’t think I’m much of a hunter, maybe my time would be better spent working on the project.”
Alvarez chuckled and read more into the suggestion than I surely meant.
“Cuando el Patròn va a sus devociones, balian los ratones,” he said with a sly smile.
The way Alvarez substituted himself for the cat, in the phrase, “when the cat is away the mice will play,” I could only guess that Alma and I were the mice. I shrunk into my seat.
Alvarez saw I was uncomfortable and gave me a playful but hard jab to the upper arm, “My friend, don’t take everything so seriously. You have my permission. Look on having Alma as a pleasant part of the project. You are pleasing me, her and yourself. Of course, if you would like to stay behind tomorrow, do so, you have my blessing.”
Alvarez stood and turned to the ornate hutch behind him. He took out a bottle of cognac and two glasses. “I have been saving this for an important occasion.” He poured the glasses half full and slid one to me. “Drink, my friend, to furthering the line.” He held his glass up and waited for me to touch mine to his. The whole affair gave me such an uneasy feeling, but I met his toast and took a sip. I was hoping that the cognac wasn’t as excellent as it was.
We finished in silence. Alvarez stood and looked down at me. “I will be off…” he winked, “a pretty little maiden at the pueblito we visited will be of great help to me this evening. Until tomorrow, my friend.” He tucked in his shirt and tightened his belt and was off.