Authors: Kem Nunn
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Literary
When it was over, he had walked her to her car, the ratty Ford. Christ, you could see the torn headliner half a block away.
“I think,” Raúl said, “that you might want to consider getting an amparo.”
Magdalena felt it in her gut—the reason he had asked her here, to talk. “Really?” she asked. “Why is that?” She turned to face him.
Raúl looked away. “You believe in your cause,” he said. “I understand that. I respect you for it . . .” His voice grew faint. “But you make enemies. This is obvious.”
“Do you know something about who set the fire?”
His eyes were dark and sad, sadder than they had appeared in the restaurant. As if suddenly becoming aware of this fact he now took steps to hide them, behind a pair of expensive-looking dark glasses. “Just get one,” he told her. “It’s all I can really say. It would be a good thing to have.”
They shook hands at the side of her car. He opened the door for her. She got in then sat watching him in her rearview mirror. She watched until he was lost amid the rush of traffic, the glare of midday sun.
An amparo was a document by which one might protect oneself from the local police. It was issued by a district court. The district courts had more power than local or municipal courts. They were also deemed to be somewhat less corrupt. In any country more sensible, such a document would have been wholly unnecessary. An amparo said, “Cut the crap. You want to make a charge stick, then present it in a district court, before a district judge.” Without it one was at the mercy of whatever muck lay at the bottom of the judicial system, where every street cop, drug cop, border cop, or
was on someone’s payroll. What her friend the street cop had been telling her was that whoever was behind the burning of the offices had at least some degree of pull. He was telling her that someone important was out to get her. Or at least this is what she believed he was telling her, before he put on his expensive shades and walked away. By evening, he would no doubt be at one of his clubs, listening to music, or perhaps taking in a film at the new cultural center in the Zona del Río. Magdalena would be alone in her apartment, staring into a computer screen.
But she had gone to Carlotta. They had procured the
documents, one for each of them. And she had increased her vigilance. She had been on guard. And they had gotten her anyway. Little good her official document had done her on the side of the road, on the sand of Las Playas. And now it was lost to the sea. Certainly she could not go back without it. Nor could she return to Tijuana before putting a face to her enemy.
Hence the list on Fahey’s pad. She had begun by trying to reconstruct the accident, to remember how she had gotten from the car to the Tijuana River Valley because this part was very hazy to her now. Something had snapped in the steering column. She could remember that much, or perhaps in the linkage at the front of her car. There was sensory recall. She could feel the jolting of the wheel in the palms of her hands. When she closed her eyes, she heard the voices of men. Further details slipped away even as she tried to reclaim them. She went on to names and dates—an attempt to reconstruct some of what she had been working on in her files. That was where the answer lay. It had to be. She was on to something and yet somehow she had shown her hand. Word had gotten out, clear to the street, to the ear of Raúl, who had taken her to lunch to warn her. Or perhaps he had taken her to find out if she could be dissuaded. The accident had occurred later, when he found that she could not. She returned to her list, wondering where to put his name, then realized there would be no end of it. Nothing like a threat on one’s life to induce paranoia. By this time, however, her head had begun to ache and she had turned to doodling, an image from waking dreams—the disembodied eye: Primitive juvenilia, yet linked somehow to the events that had brought her here. She looked back over what she had written then dozed fitfully to the drone of Fahey’s mechanical harvester. From time to time she would open an eye to find him still at work, his broad back gleaming
in sweat as he bent to shovel the dirt containing the worms into the absurd device he had drawn her a picture of, an apparently interminable procedure, before letting go altogether, falling at last into a deep and troubled sleep.
She awoke hours later, drenched in sweat. For a moment or two she could not quite place where she was or how she had gotten there. She believed that there was even a split second when she did not know who she was—just some bit of consciousness which, had she been more of a mystic, she might have taken as evidence of the illusory nature of the self but which in her present condition she took only as evidence of further deterioration, the possible results of internal injuries as yet undiagnosed.
But she saw the surfboard in its canvas straps, hanging above her in the old trailer and it all came back, most of it anyway. It was dark outside, pitch black beneath the trees. She got out of bed—the first time she had done so under her own power. She felt an overpowering need for night air and went out onto the porch, then through it to stand on the hard-packed dirt in her bare feet. It was cooler here. She could hear the distant pounding of the surf that had nearly claimed her life, the very waves she had watched only days before from the safety of the restaurant, dining with Raúl overlooking the valley.
As her eyes grew accustomed to the darkness she noted a few faint stars scattered among the branches of the trees and off in the distance, in those few places where some break in the foliage permitted it, a pale frosting in the southern sky she took for the lights of Tijuana, so near and yet so far. And she thought of Carlotta. The name landed upon her like a stone. She could scarcely believe that even in her dementia this had not occurred to her from the very beginning. My God, she thought, if someone tried to kill her, then
why not the woman she worked for? Her next thought was both horrific and inevitable: a broken Carlotta, dead by the side of the road.
She returned to the trailer, in search of a phone. The vehicle was comprised of little more than two rooms, a living room at one end, a bedroom at the other. In between were a tiny kitchen and an even tinier bathroom. She went quickly from one room to the next, pacing the narrow floor with more sense of purpose than she had experienced in some time. In fact, now that she realized there was something to be done, all manner of ideas began to take hold. She went so far as to entertain the notion that even all of this, everything that had occurred, was in some way okay—assuming of course that Carlotta was still alive. Her work was bearing fruit and she was the proof of it. She might have tipped her hand but an enemy had tipped his as well. He had also provided her with evidence. She had after all survived a murder attempt. It was not just the accident. There had been men on the road. And men might be traced. They might be induced to talk. One thought tumbled after another. She was still alive, yet her enemy probably believed her dead. Certainly this could work to her advantage. The thing to do was not only to warn Carlotta but also to get her out of Tijuana—Carlotta and the files. Why not? What if she had access to both of them? Together they might figure it out. They might prepare a case. And why not do it right here, within sight of home, yet tucked away in a corner of the world where no one would think to look? It would require a certain amount of planning. She would definitely need the aid of this man who had saved her from the dogs, this Fahey.
Her enthusiasm gave way to fantasy. She imagined them all in some high court, the owner of Reciclaje Integral having been extradited on charges of attempted murder, in this case her own,
standing before a judge. She imagined the look on his face as he was led away. She imagined his reception in the prison at La Paz. She knew it was a reach, but what the hell . . . days of despair and now this.
She looked at a photograph on the wall—a lone surfer on a huge wave, arms spread rather, she thought, like a gull in flight. She had seen the picture many times during the past few days, but it suddenly occurred to her that it was a picture of Fahey. Perhaps there had been something about watching him at work, some way he had of holding himself. She took the picture from the wall and studied it closely by the yellow light of a lamp. There was no doubt about it. The photograph was of Fahey, the worm farmer. He was younger, to be sure, younger and leaner, a thick mane of blond hair flowing in the wind as he carved a turn from the base of a towering indigo wall, but still Fahey.
It did not occur to her just then to wonder what had gone wrong. For the moment, the photograph seemed only to add to her burgeoning confidence. It was, after all, one big wave. And anyone who could do that . . . Surely, she thought, he was her man. Nor did she really need that much. One could say he had done as much already, and more . . . He had killed the dogs. He had gone to Tijuana and come home with the meds. All she needed now was his forbearance, a little time, a little space, possibly a trip across the border to help Carlotta with the files . . .
Magdalena went once more from one end of the trailer to the other, the photograph still clutched in her hands. She would tell him everything, she decided. She would enlist his aid in her struggle against the monster. She would make of him a soldier of Christ, thereby saving his immortal soul in the bargain, as the Sisters of the Benediction would have it, though she was no longer always so sure what she believed with respect to immortal souls. The thing that had come to her of late was that the fight went on, with immortal
souls, or without them. The fight was the thing and to give up on it was to surrender one’s soul—right here, in the here and now. The hereafter would be what it would be. The struggle itself was the act by which one gave meaning to the world.
Suddenly, however, she felt dizzy and stopped to sit on the edge of the bed. She placed a hand on the back of her neck and found that she was damp with sweat. She supposed she was overdoing it. That Carlotta should be warned, however, was obvious and unequivocal. She found herself staring into the small, chipped face of Fahey’s plaster hula girl, the tiny dancer bathed in the light of her own sixty-watt sun, her grass skirt brittle with time. She was several seconds in observation of this sorry statuary, remarkable if for no other reason than its lack of duct tape, before realizing she had yet to uncover a phone. Perhaps, she thought, he carried one with him, but quickly realized she had no idea where he was. During the course of her illness, when she had kept to the bed, too weak to move, Fahey seemed always nearby. Later, as some of her strength returned and she was able to sit up, she would get the occasional glimpse—Fahey sitting or asleep, on the little couch at the far end of the trailer. During the last couple of days he seemed to be less visible. She had taken it as one more token of his generosity. He was allowing her more space, and more privacy to go with it. And so it was that she was alone just now.
She had been here for the better part of a week yet scarcely knew what else was on the land. There was an old outbuilding at the edge of the property, that and the farmhouse, both of which could be seen from the trailer, though she seemed to remember his saying that the outbuilding was unused and that the house had been commandeered by bees, possibly killer bees out of Africa by way of Mexico. Still, she had no other idea about where to look and when she went to the door she saw that there was indeed a yellow light burning in a small room at one end of the old house. It quickly
occurred to her that she had seen this light before, from the louvered windows at her bedside, that it had burned there each night, all night, and was there in the morning and daytime too for she had seen it even in the afternoon in the shade of the cottonwoods.