Saturday, August 18, 2007


The church at Amargo was a massive adobe affair with twin bell towers, carved wooden doors and several smaller buildings grouped around a courtyard.

As they walked up the church steps, the girls noticed some of the women were wearing rebozos, so they pulled out their mantillas and draped them over their hair. Will and Coyote adjusted their hats and bolos. They merged into the crowd passing through the great double doors and paused in the dim foyer to look around. In an alcove, a few people were genuflecting in front of a life-size Virgin Mary, her robes covered in spangles. Upon closer inspection Diana realized the shiny objects were totemic images of houses, horses, limbs, and other symbolic items. She glanced at a nearby child, raising her eyebrows in a silent question.

"Es la virgin de cosas perdidas."

"If I pin a lost thing to her robe, I'll get it back?"

"Quizás. There’s a woman outside selling them, if you want to try."

Diana turned to her friends, her eyes alight. "Let's do it. It can't cost much."

"Since when were you superstitious?"

"I'm not. It's just for fun. Go on and find a pew, if you're not interested. I'll join you in a minute." She went outside, and sure enough, there was a hunched little woman on the sidewalk selling nickel and silver totems from the back of a cart. Diana pushed her way forward. "¿Cuánto?" she asked, pointing to one that caught her eye. They haggled for a minute, then Diana handed her a coin and took the pendant back inside. As she was pinning it to the virgin's robe, a man gave her a knowing smile. "¿Es para coraje o para amor?"

She blushed and ran the tip a finger along the edge of the silver heart. "It's for both.” She crossed herself, got to her feet and went inside the nave, remembering to dabble her fingers in the holy water and cross herself again as she stepped into the gloom.

She looked around, not seeing Will and the others anywhere. Instead she noticed a striking, dark-skinned woman, apparently at her prayers, but with a curiously taut look about her, as if her entire body was a listening device. Diana made her way to the pew, knelt beside her and pulled out her rosary. The woman glanced at her out of the corner of her eye, then drew back, startled. Diana held her breath, unsure if she was welcome.

Libby's brilliant smile reassured her.

Both women folded their hands on the back of the pew in front of them and rested their foreheads on their clasped fingers. "It's good to see you, Diana," Libby whispered. "I've been worried."

"I’m fine."

"Are you sure? I wanted to go see you at the safe house, but the timing was so bad, with the new commander. . .”

"I know. Diana didn’t care to revisit those particular memories. "What is Alexander like? I've heard good things."

"He's smart and very fair-minded. You'll see. He's anxious to meet you and Will."

There was something in her voice Diana wasn't sure she liked. "There's nothing interesting about us. We just do our job."

"You're too modest." She looked up and gave a little jerk of her head. "Pos, mira. Look who's here."

Diana did as she was told. The man's red hair had lost some of its brilliance and he moved without the restless energy she remembered, but she would have recognized Strecker anywhere. Flanked by guards in black uniforms, he moved with an aura of easy command, walking in procession to a reserved pew at the front of the church. "Who does he think he's kidding?" Diana whispered.

"Everyone says he's a sincere believer."

"What kind of religion says it's okay to kill innocent people six days a week and beg forgiveness on the seventh? Bastard."

Libby nudged her. "Silencio. Aquellas damas in front of us are saying something."

They bowed their heads again, rosaries clasped in their fingers as they strained to hear the ladies in the other pew sharing vague hints about the upcoming conference.

Diana closed her eyes. She was trying to tease out the meaning of their words when her concentration was broken by the scuff of a man's boots on the stone floor. She looked up, the lace of her mantilla falling away from her face. Robert stood over her, returning her startled gaze. She knew she should say something, but there were too many thoughts crowding her brain. Flustered, she crossed herself and turned away. Clutching her rosary, she lowered her head again. For what seemed a long time, she felt his eyes upon her, but didn't dare look up. If he kept staring at her like this she would surely faint.

At last she sensed, more than heard him kneel at Libby's side. The two exchanged a few whispers. Then he stood up and his footsteps went away. Diana took a deep shuddering breath, as if she had finally been given permission to breathe.

Libby scooted closer. "If you hear anything worth reporting, tell me and I'll let Robert know."

Diana blinked. "Is that what he told you? Is he not man enough to take a report from me directly?"

"I know." She patted Diana's arm, then returned to her attitude of prayer.

"I wasn't planning on reporting to him, anyway. I'll report to my own people, just as I had planned."

"You do that." A scuffle of feet made her raise her head and look around. "Get up, dear. They're about to start."

1 comment:

Alice Audrey said...

What a tense way to meet again.