Excerpt from Blood Lake


A righteous person knows the soul of the beast.     –Proverbs 12:10


Someone is taking the stairs three at a time. For a moment my chest turns as brittle as glass, and my pounding heart nearly shatters it. But cops don’t move that fast,and there’s only one set of feet bounding up to the landing. It’s not a knock, it’s a pound, the door flies open and Johnny bursts into my room. I leap to my feet, scattering my torturously scribbled notes for the all-important political philosophy exam across the bed and floor.

“Juanito–!” I prepare for the thrill of his embrace.

“Where is he?”

“You just got out and that’s what you want to do first?”

But he looks right through me, with blood in his eye, and I realize that he did not just get out. He broke out. And not too carefully, either.

“Then they’ll be here any second.”

“Where is that bastard?”

“Where he always is,” I say. “In class, his office or his house.”

“I’ve been to his house! He’s not there!”

“Well, he moved since–” Since he turned you and five other comrades in to the secret police and you spent the last year and a half being tortured in an underground jail cell.

“Take me to him!”

I’m listening for the tromp-tromp-tromp of hobnailed boots up the stairs, taking a last look around at the life that I will have to bail out of immediately if he’s led them to me.

“Juanita, mi amor,” he says, “take me there.” He’s got a stolen police pistol jammed into his belt. “Now!” I throw a poncho over his head to cover the prison clothes and the gun, take a quick look out the window to make sure they’re not blocking off the street yet, and slam the door on my brief, tranquil life as a transfer student at the University of Cuenca.

We fly through the streets, the echoes of our steps on the cobblestones becoming a dozen phantom Furies sweeping through the city behind us. I won’t look back. I know they’re there. I was in another part of the country, with a name they wouldn’t know, when Johnny’s group was hit a year and a half ago. Five were murdered, six were spared, because Johnny’s group knew things, and the cops wanted to know things, too. And soon the living envied the dead. But word got out. Word always got out. About who had turned them in.

And now we’re going to visit him.

No knock, no pound. Johnny kicks open the door, takes a quick look at the empty rooms downstairs, then seemingly sniffs the air and propels himself up the shaky stairs tothe study. He swings the door open with a whirlwind force that blows Professor Dos Caras out of his chair as papers and volumes of Marx fall to the floor. Dos Caras backs away as Johnny rushes in, trapping him against the window that dangles over the Tomebamba River, looking south across the Knife Valley towards the mountains.

“No, no, Juanito–!” says Dos Caras, his hands quivering in front of his pallid face like reeds in a storm.

“Don’t call me that!” says Johnny, shoving the man’s arms out of his way. “You phony!” Johnny curses him.

“You traitor! Do you know what we do to traitors?”

Johnny’s hand comes out from under the poncho holding the stolen pistol.

“No, no!” Dos Caras protests. Johnny smacks him across the mouth with an open hand. It sounds like a car door slamming.

“Please stop him, Filomena!” squeals Dos Caras.

“Who?” Johnny flashes a look at the open door. Then one look at me and he understands. I’m trying to go straight. And I just heard a second car door slam. Dos Caras ducks away from Johnny and runs straight at me, towards the door. Johnny raises the pistol, but he hasn’t got a shot. I get in Dos Caras’s way, slam the door shut as Dos Caras starts screaming for the police to come up and help him. Johnny throws both arms around him and tries to stop his mouth with a free hand. But Dos Caras is slimy, and the poncho gets in Johnny’s way.

“It wasn’t me!” Dos Caras manages to shout.

“Don’t lie to me, you chickenhearted little bastard!”

Johnny yells, grabbing for him again, stumbling into the desk, knocking over more books so they fall to the floor with a heavy thud, as boots thud across the wooden floor one flight below.

“It wasn’t me!” Dos Caras struggles to speak through Johnny’s grip.

“Then who was it?”

Dos Caras’s eyes flit to the door. The boots are circling back from the kitchen and dining room. I’m jamming his chair under the doorknob. Good for about two seconds.

“Stop wasting my time, you dirty fulana!” Johnny spits the words in the professor’s face, shoving the gun up into the soft flesh under Dos Caras’s jaw.

Dos Caras tries to save himself: “It was Luisa Ramera! She did it! I swear!” Dos Caras is squirming, and Johnny’s grip isn’t good enough. Boots are stomping up the stairs, and Johnny wants to finish him with one shot.

“Hold still, you fucking coward!” Johnny grabs the short oily hair on the back of Dos Caras’s head with his left hand, shoves the pistol into the professor’s mouth and blasts a hole through the back of the professor’s head, taking the top half of two of his own fingers off as he does it.

The gun hits the floor and rolls. Johnny grabs his bleeding finger stubs with his right fist. The door billows out as the cops ram into it. It splits, but holds. We’ve got exactly two seconds. The gun’s in the middle of the floor. I’m about to grab it and empty it through the paper-thin door when Johnny takes a step towards me. Then he turns and runs at the window. The door splinters open.

I spread my arms out like a soaring condor, but they knock me to the floor and open fire as Johnny throws his body through the window, shattering the worm-eaten wood and falling in a hail of bullets and glass, towards the rocks and the icy waters of the Tomebamba, seventy-five feet below.

Seven heavily armed cops run over to the shattered window frame and look down. Then they turn and look at me. They’ve got blood on them from the broken glass.

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