Thursday, November 17, 2005

Ambuscado, Part 2

Where ya been, Phutsie? You can't cut out in the middle of a story like that.

Cut me some friggin' slack, Brother/Sister. My health comes first. Would you trouble Hemingway for an ending if he were triply concussed? Would you be on Spielberg's case to wrap up a final edit while he was recovering from hernia surgery?

All right, then. Ambuscado, part 2 — delivered as quickly as I could get it down:

I woke up on my back. I was lying on a cot, naked, under a sheet and blanket. The room was small and its lighting was dim. There was someone standing over me, a face framed by black hair. Flora.

I reached up to my head. This was instinctive, because it was my head, and not any other part of my body, that was pulsing with an intense, blinding pain. I pressed my hand against my forehead and found it wrapped in gauze. The hand itself was bruised, knuckles bloodied.

"That bandage is not hand-made," Flora said, "but I hope you'll accept it."

I looked over at her, caught the tail end of a fleeting and delicate smile. It flashed across her face, lit up her green eyes, and was gone again as quickly as it came. That might have been the first time I saw her smile, and my knocked-silly eyes, lolling around in their sockets without discipline, nearly missed it.

Her face fell into its characteristic frown. "There were three of them fighting you."

I looked up at the ceiling. By this time my brain was starting to register sensation from my arms, legs, thorax, and abdomen. That sensation was a uniform, penetrating ache that I expected would, in short order, resolve into several dozen specific foci of pain, where my attackers had landed their blows and kicks.

Now I know, Brother/Sister, how these stories usually go. When the Picaro resumes consciousness, he says something like Where am I? What happened? This indicates to the reader that he has no memory of the events that immediately preceded his blackout — requiring his interlocutor (in this case, Flora) to tell him that he had been attacked by three Elite Incan Dance-Fighters and kicked repeatedly in the head. But standard Hollywood plot formulas notwithstanding, I happened to remember exactly what went down up the road — I in fact knew more about it than Flora. And so when she said, "There were three of them fighting you," I replied not with Three of who? or even Three of whom?

Instead I said, "Five. There were five, to begin with." I wanted Flora to know that I was not entirely brain-addled. And I also wanted credit for the two Dance-Fighters I had managed to dispatch.

"Whatever the number was — it wasn't a fair fight," Flora said. She was frowning again.

"They didn't want a fair fight. They wanted to kill me," I said. "And I shouldn't be here. Your brothers and sisters — the children — I'm endangering all of you. They could come back —"

I sat up, brought my feet to the floor. The room whirled violently around me, I lurched left, then right on the cot, but I endeavored to stand, anyway, taking care to drape the bedsheet over my waist. I was wobbly on my feet, dizzy and a bit disoriented, but my legs supported my weight. That would be enough to get me out of the Pachado house before the assassins killed her family.

"The doors are barricaded," Flora assured me. She pulled a shotgun from a dark corner. I had not seen it before. "We're as safe as we can be. I sent for your Master Trainer. He should be here within the hour."

"You could all be killed in that amount of time." I inched across the room toward the door. "Where are my clothes?"

"I hid them."

"You what?"

"Because I knew you would do this. I knew you would try to leave." Flora approached me and took hold of my arm. She led me, flinching, stutter-stepping, back toward the cot. "I've watched you over the past three days. You're not the yanqui culo I thought you were. You work hard. You have a good heart. You're respectful." Tears welled up in her eyes.

"I just want you to be safe —"

"I know this," she said, pushing me gently down on the bed. "And you've done so much for my family these three days. You've almost finished the screened porch. Let me take care of you now."

What limited energy I had on awakening I had exhausted on my round trip across Flora's bedroom. My head came to rest on the pillow, and the pain up and down my body receded, signing to me that I would be losing consciousness again momentarily. My eyelids came down. With superhuman effort I lifted them. Flora was in the room, with me. The Most Beautiful Girl I've Ever Seen in Peru. Why would I allow some fascist autonomic nerve override to close my eyes? She was speaking to me —

"Phutatorius —"

I centered my eyes on hers. I was determined not to black out. With the entire force of my will I clung to consciousness — just to keep looking at her, just to keep listening to her — but I had no hope. Darkness converged on me, my vision blurred, until all I could see were the two green lights of her eyes, filling with tears, reflecting light at me. And these, too, were dimming —

"Phutatorius, — I —"

Spit it out, woman. I could go any second now.

"I —"

Blackness. Silence. Shit.

Part 3 when I'm feeling up to it.

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