Life blood, p.29
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       Life Blood, p.29

          
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  Chapter Twenty-seven

  As I watched him depart, hallucinations swirling through my brain likefurious fireworks, I had a bizarre thought. In an ancient rainforestall things are still possible. The old fairy tales we grew up withmostly took place in a deep wood where evil could lurk unfettered.Today, though, the earth's forests no longer symbolize the unknowabledark within us. Nowadays, the ogres of our nightmares descend fromouter space or even from our inner selves, places we can't physicallyknow or subdue. Here, though, at this very moment, Steve and Sarah andI were marooned in a thousand-year-old forest where horror still lived.

  I got off the bed and steadied myself, breathing deeply, forcing mybrain to clear. Steve was wearing a shift, but his clothes were hangingfrom a hook on the door. For a long moment I just stared at the bruiseson his face.

  "God, baby, what did he do to you?"

  No answer.

  "Come on, love. Please wake up."

  He didn't move, but his breathing was normal, not labored. Iimmediately decided I'd slap him around if I had to, anything to gethim going and able to walk.

  "Honey, wake up. Please." I pulled his feet out of the bed and slidthem around and onto the linoleum floor. I didn't know what kind ofsedative he'd been injected with, but if I had to shake him out of it,fine. This was no time for half measures. "Come _on_."

  I pulled him to his feet and dragged him across the floor to theslatted window at the rear of the room, where the predawn sounds of theforest beyond filled the air, mingled with the rain. What I needed wasa gallon of black coffee, but the wet breeze would have to do.

  It took ten minutes of working on him, with me barely able to hold agrasp on my own reality, but then his eyelids began to flutter. I kepttalking to him, pleading and badgering, and when he finally startedcoming around, I began to walk him back and forth in front of thewindow.

  Steve, I thought, I'm so sorry, so terribly sorry I dragged you intothis.

  "Can I please lie down?" His timorous voice startled me, but it gave mea burst of hope. Come _on_.

  "Baby, just walk a little more. Try to get the blood flowing and flushthe damned chemicals out of your brain."

  "Morgy, are you okay?" His eyes had finally started to focus. And thefirst thing he asked about was _me_. I impulsively hugged him.

  "I'm going to be." I pulled back and examined him. "You know where youare?"

  He grinned with only half his face, and I could tell even that hurt.Then he stared around the room.

  "Tell you one thing," he said, "this ain't Kansas anymore. Last thing Iremember is, Alan and I were setting down. Then out of nowhere, yourColonel Ramos and about twenty kid soldiers with AK-47's were all overus." He groaned. "They took me and then he told Dupre to get back inthe chopper and disappear. I think that son of a bitch tipped Ramos offwe were coming. Then Ramos worked me over and gave me an injection.About five minutes later I passed out. It's the last thing I remember."

  Ramos. Was he going to kill us both, now that Alex Goddard had gotteneverything he wanted? I thought about it and decided this was not themoment to share that possibility with Steve. Instead I turned himaround and lifted up his head.

  "Are you really awake?" I loved this poor, beat-up man. More thananything, I just wanted to hold him.

  "I'm not . . . but I'd damned well better be." He tried unsteadily, tostraighten up. "Morgy, before he put me away, that Ramos bastard wastalking about me, and you, in the past tense. Like we'd already been'disappeared.' He didn't know I speak Spanish. What the hell's goingon?"

  I wasn't sure how to tell him. But I was getting that super energy Godgives you when you realize life is no longer a game. We had to getfocused.

  "Baby, where's your passport?" I asked.

  He looked around then pointed to his battered camera bag in the corner.

  "It's in there. Or was. Central America. Never leave home without it."He grimaced then lightly pushed me away and stood by himself. "Jesus,do you know what they're doing? You were right all along. They'reselling kids in the States. That Ramos prick is running the operation,not to mention Alex Goddard's slice of the action. And somebody at theAmerican embassy here is handling all the paperwork, so they can greaseeverything through the INS. But I still don't understand how it iswe're--"

  "Honey, I know exactly what's happening." I'd long since figured outthat Alex Goddard and Colonel Ramos were working hand in glove. But Istill couldn't bring myself to tell him how he and I were going to beused. It was just too sick. "Listen, not long from now I think I'msupposed to be taken down there to the village for some kind of rite,as part of this whole disgusting operation, and then after that he'sgoing to use . . . You don't want to hear. We've--"

  "You know, Ramos and a bunch of G-2 thugs are here to take away a batchof little kids," he rambled on, not seeming to hear anything I wassaying. He was off in his own world, trying to sort out things in hishead. "But what I can't figure is, how can they just take children fromhere and nobody tries to stop them? Are these _indigena_ soterrified--?"

  "Listen, please." Now my hallucinations were returning in spite of allI could do, trails of light that glimmered off all the objects in theroom, and I didn't know how much longer I'd be coherent. I'd have totalk fast. "We've got to get Sarah before daylight. She's down in thevillage. I tried to get her out of there yesterday, but--"

  "Is she okay?" He stared at me and his eyes cleared for a moment. "Imean, is she able to--?"

  "No, she's not okay. She's hallucinating worse than ever. I'm sure he'sgiving her more drugs. Really heavy stuff."

  "So how--?"

  "Hopefully, we're going right this minute. There's a river. But if thatdoesn't work out, there's something I can do to buy us a month's time.Alex Goddard's got a laboratory here, just down the hall, in back ofhis office. It's the evil center of this place. So if I can get inthere and dump all his petri dishes, his in-vitro culture mediums . . .Baby, it's all so disgusting. But I'm going to take care of it."

  I was starting to have real trouble just stringing words together intosentences. My hallucinations were still growing, the loud whispers oflight, but I did manage to tell him how I thought we could get Sarahand elude the Army, if we did it before sunup, though my plan probablycame out pretty jumbled. Yet I felt that if we did it together, wecould take care of each other. . . .

  Then, with my remaining strength, I launched into action.

  "Let me check the hall. I just want to shut down his lab. Call it . . .call it insurance. Five minutes, and then we'll be out of here."

  It also would be a kind of justice, to even the score for what he'ddone to Sarah and to me.

  I leaned Steve back against the wall, then walked slowly across thetile floor to the door and tested it. Surprise, surprise, it waslocked. I again tried the knob, an old one, then again, but it wouldn'tbudge, just wiggled slightly. He'd locked us in.

  Now what?

  Then I remembered the time Steve and I were in a similar situation.When we got locked in my room at the Oloffson in Port-au-Prince, he'djust taken his Swiss Army knife and unscrewed the knob, then clicked itopen. He'd made it look like a piece of cake, but he had a way of doingthat.

  He was barely conscious, so this time I'd have to do it myself. Iglanced around at his bag.

  "Is your Swiss still in there?"

  "I think . . ." His mind seemed to be wandering. Then he gave a weakthumbs-up.

  I went over and zipped it open. Be there, I prayed. We really could usea break.

  I rummaged through telephoto lenses and film canisters and underwear.Then I found it, zipped inside a water-repellent baggie and stuck in aside pouch.

  I snapped it open and went to work, him watching me, his head noddingas he struggled to stay conscious.

  The main difference between this time and Haiti was, here I didn't knowwhat was on the other side and I was having hallucinations ofmulticolored snakes.

  "You're doing great," he said finally, seeming to come a bit more alive.

  And I was. Out with the screws, off with the knob, in with the smallblade, and click. Maybe we just think men's mechanical skills aregenetically hard-wired. Maybe it's all a secret plot to elicit awe.

  I closed the knife and shoved it back into his bag, then turned to him.

  "Honey, I'm just going to be a second. While I'm gone, practicewalking."

  "Be careful, please." He gave a cautionary wave. "They don't want usleaving here alive."

  "Just get ready." I quietly pulled back the door and peered out intothe dark hallway. It was empty, abandoned, no snakes, with only a lightbreeze flowing through.

  When I stepped out, the fresh air hit my face and I had a moment ofintensity that made me realize what I really wanted to do, first andforemost, was see Tz'ac Tzotz one last time. A last farewell to one ofSarah's children. Stupid, yes, a private folly of the heart, but I hadto do it.

  I was halfway down the hall, experiencing flashes of color before myeyes, when I heard a voice.

  "They're all praying for you. It's almost time."

  I turned back, startled, barely able to see. Finally I made outMarcelina, in her white shift. We were standing a few feet from thestairs, where I wanted to go, and I was tripping, my reality almostgone. I think she knew that, because she reached out to help me stand.

  "Marcelina, where's Sarah?" I grasped her hand, which helped me to keepmy balance. "Is she still down there in that . . . place?"

  "She's been so looking forward to the ceremony. She wants them to bringher--"

  "You don't know where she is?" I realized nothing was going to go theway I'd hoped it would.

  "They all love her. They're taking good care of her."

  "Well, I love her too. And I have to get her. Now." I was whispering toher, trying to save my strength. "Marcelina, promise me you'll stop allthis. It's so horrible. So sad."

  "It's our life," she whispered back, then turned her face away.

  I didn't know what else to say, and I was terrified Alex Goddard mightmaterialize, so without another word, I pulled away and started up thesteps.

  When I reached the top of the stairs, the hallway was lighted by thestring of bulbs along the floor, and I made my way as fast as I couldto my room at the end. I pulled my passport out of my bag, along with acharge card, slipped them both into my pants pocket, and headed backdown the hall.

  When I got to the door of the room where Tz'ac Tzotz and his motherwere, I gave it a gentle push and peered in, but the glow from the lampabove the bed showed it and the crib were both empty. . . .

  No! They must have already taken the children. Next they'd be comingfor me. I realized I'd been a fool not to head straight for the lab. Ishould have just gone--

  The room went completely dark, together with the hallway, a pitch-blackthat felt like a liquid washing over me. The main power, somewhere, hadabruptly died, or been deliberately shut off.

  Then I heard a thunder of footsteps pounding up the steps, hard bootson the marble.

  I made a dash, hoping to slip past them in the dark hall.

  I'd reached the top of the stairs when I felt a hand brush against myface, then a grip circle around my biceps. Somebody had been too quick.

  I brought my elbow around hoping to catch him in the face, bring himdown, but instead it slammed against something metal, which clatteredonto the floor.

  "_Chingado_!" came a muffled voice.

  I drew back and swung, and this time my arm scraped hard against theflesh of a face and the bastard staggered backward his grip loosening.

  I twisted away and dropped to the floor to begin searching for what hadfallen. Surely it was a pistol.

  The marble was cold against my bare arms as I swept my hands across thefloor. Then I ran my fingers down the edge of the stair.

  And there it was, on the first step. My left hand closed around thecold barrel of an automatic. I shifted it to my right, grasping theplastic grip, not entirely sure what I should do with it. But at leastI had a gun. I'd never actually held a real one before, but it washeavy and I assumed it was ready to fire.

  I was halfway down the first set of stairs, on my way to the landing,when I felt an arm slip around my neck. I ducked and twisted away,stumbling down the last three or four steps, and landed on my feet,staggering back against the wall to regain my balance. All I knew was,the next steps loomed somewhere to my right. Just a few more feet . . .

  But he was there again, moving between me and the final stairs. Getaround him, I told myself, but at that moment he grabbed me at thewaist.

  Dancing in the dark, but the swirl had no music and no swing, just aquick, dizzying pirouette. I aimed the pistol as close as I could tohis face and pulled the hard metal trigger.

  "_Mierda!_"

  Blinding light, a face lost in the burst of flame, stars filling myhead. The fiery explosion tongued out past his ear like a brilliantsword of reds and yellows, sending a round off into space. The noiseleft a ringing in my ears and multicolored hues stuttering across myeyes.

  It hit me who I'd just seen. It was Ramos. With a gun! Shit.

  The flash of my pistol had given me the advantage for a second, since Iknew it was coming, and with that edge I swung an elbow across hischin, then kneed him in the groin. It should have been enough to bringhim down, but instead he merely sank to one knee and redoubled his grip.

  Hey, I thought, maybe I know something he doesn't. How to take a fall.I'd seen enough movie stunts to know what you're supposed to do. It'dbe risky, but I knew I wasn't going to win a wrestling match.

  I opened up with the automatic, firing everywhere again and again andagain, getting off five rounds in a crescendo of light and sound, likea huge firecracker in my hand, enough to illuminate the stairwell likea strobe and catch him off guard. In that fleeting moment I slipped afoot behind his ankle and shoved.

  I think I yelled as I felt myself being pulled forward. Then I realizedhe was wearing a heavy bracelet that had tangled in my hair. I'd beenplanning to roll down the remaining stairs, protecting my head, and lethim bounce, but the pull of his bracelet ruined it. I felt myself beingswept into empty space, my gun flying away.

  Then something glanced off my face, the wooden banister of the stair,which had mysteriously come up to meet me. I turned and felt his bodybeneath mine, arms flailing, a soft landing, till we rolled and I wasbeneath him again.

  I struck out, a right fist, and he fell away, his braceletdisentangling as he tumbled farther down the stairs. Then I rose andtried to take a step, but it wasn't there. In the pitch dark the anglewas wrong, off by just inches, and as I toppled forward into emptyspace I reached out, taking a handful of dark air.

  Finally I felt something clenching my wrist, and the next

  thing I knew I was being swung around. I twisted sideways one lasttime, but then my head hit the wall. The hard marble caught me justabove the ear, and I saw the darkness of the space grow brilliantlylight, then transmute to vibrant colors.

  Or maybe the hall lights had come back on. I only know I felt a set ofarms encircle me.

  "Come," Alex Goddard was saying as he lifted me up. "They're ready."

 
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