and Alejandra stood amidst the narrow streets of the Hijo de Dios district. It
was coming on mid-day and the heat was rising fast.
we even here?” said Alejandra.
this is where Rafael lives now,” said Maggie. “This is where he told me he’d
end up if he didn’t have Luis. So I figure, if Luis was erased from his life,
he’d be here in the first place.”
logic,” said Alejandra. “But why are we looking for him?”
“Because he deserves to get his
boyfriend back after my mistake,” said Maggie, “and if both of us are around to
contradict Las Tías then we have a better chance of keeping you safe than if it
were just me. Does that make you feel better?”
little,” said Alejandra. “But let’s find him fast.”
set off to search for Rafael.
Dios is not an official district, as it sits on the outskirts, running up the
hill where the city’s peninsula connects to the land. It does not officially
have running water, electricity, sewage disposal, or school services, though
such services are provided somewhat surreptitiously by people who have to be
paid off well to keep quiet. It does not have fire-department services nor fire
codes, not that the fire department would be able to get through the maze of
structures anyhow. For the people who have chosen to build in brick or
concrete, this is not an immediate problem; the more pressing problem is
garbage collection, which is somewhat sporadic. Hijo de Dios has one smell
above all others and it’s not pretty.
would certainly call it a difficult place, for being built up the hill, the
streets challenge all but those who were born on the hill, and if someone
cannot walk, they live at the bottom of the hill and rarely reach the top. One
might call it a colorful place, for the quiet anarchy of its housing placement,
the occasional rainbow of vomit on the path, and the occasional splash of fresh
blood, frequently accompanied by men walking away laughing. These men are
always wearing blue armbands, but it is hardly necessary, for their rifles make
their threat clear enough. Upon a time one would have called it a busy place,
full of shouting vendors and arguing housewives, people bellowing for everyone
to get out of the way, and blue-banded men dragging away their latest victim
into the shadows; now, however, there seemed to be very few people indeed.
Indeed, the only full street was the one
that Maggie and Alejandra emerged onto. Here were gathered the greatest
concentration of people left in Hijo de Dios, and yet the street was quiet; if
anyone spoke it was in a whisper. People were packing their shops up for the
mid-day and retreating indoors.
questioned a young Indio woman dressed in a priest’s garb, who said that
everyone around here was aware of Rafael the Sailor. A wine-dark woman of dreadlocks
and many-ringed fingers pointed to the very house that the young Indio woman
was entering, and Rafael stepped out of it as the Indio woman stepped in.
very strange,” said Maggie. “I could swear that woman was familiar.” She turned
to Alejandra, who was breathing a little easier than she had been. “Alejandra,”
she said, “wasn’t that the woman who served us tea? Mademoiselle something?”
indeed,” said Alejandra, “and glad I am to see that she was not erased. What’s
she doing in priest’s robes, though?”
the Extreme Unction,” said Rafael. “So I had to step out. Can’t intrude on a
surprised,” said Alejandra. “I should have thought she would take the easy way
out, and pledge herself to Benigno’s army, and so vanish in an instant.”
many people want to do that these days,” said a voice from behind Maggie. She
turned around. Here was a wine-dark man, taller even than Maggie, a man of
dreadlocks and a scruffy beard, a man of great brawn and sad eyes.
Benigno,” said Alejandra.
know him?” said Maggie.
met,” said Benigno. “Though never spoken. Alejandra is the Criollo who dares
venture into our streets, and never says why. I am the man whom none will own
as son, for all who take up with my cause tend to vanish, though they never
eat, nor drink, nor smoke anything.”
that’s a bit of a boast,” said the many-ringed woman. “I birthed you, Benigno,
you could at least own that.”
will you call me your son?”
until you find your army,” said the woman.
chuckled. “As you always say. Well, I admit I have not been diligent lately, in
regards to that.”
not,” said the young Indio woman, Mademoiselle Le Chifre, as she opened the
door of the house. “You have been content to be the angel of death around here,
giving people an easy passing by making them pledge to your cause on their
deathbed. So I have been told by so many dying people. How many have vanished
under your care? Is my function simply to be a safety net for people who refuse
your offer? I don’t want to see your face right now, Benigno. Get out of here.”
apologies,” said Benigno. “Mother Marquez, I never meant to imply that your
work was less important than mine.”
you intruded upon my responsibilities anyway. Just go.”
grumbled as he departed away down the street.
his cause?” said Alejandra.
speak of it freely here,” said Mother Marquez nee Mademoiselle Le Chifre, “for
Rafael’s protection extends over this block. What Benigno wants is to gather an army and fight Las Tias de Ojos. Won’t hear a word against it. And anyone who
joins him disappears, but he doesn’t. Perhaps Las Tias have a cruel sense of
like someone I’d like to have around,” said Maggie. “Alejandra and I were going
to head off and fight those things ourselves.”
an entirely different note,” said Maggie, “There’s a lot I would like to know
about you, regarding your double life.”
worth discussing,” said Mother Marquez. “Not now. I have to get where I’m going
before the mid-day comes on fully. You should get indoors. Meet me at the
shrine of El Bosque De Fideles, once the sun sets.”
departed as well.
turned to Rafael. “This is a dangerous place for you to live,” she said. “Where
people let each other stay out so close to the mid-day.”
any place is dangerous,” said Rafael, “if one can be erased for blinking too
vigorously or breathing too happily. But come inside. We will see the old woman
die, and then speak of other things.”