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SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE
The staff photographer was nodding to himself at her desk. “I’m telling you,” he said. “It’s just like that Brandon Lee film. The Crow. The one where Lee and his fiancée are brutally murdered the night before Halloween. Lee comes back as this avenging angel/crow and dispenses with his killers, one by one…” The photographer sighed. “Now that was a Great movie.”
“What are you talking about?” Parker asked in annoyance. She threw the copy of Newsweek onto her desk that she had been reading; the lead story was Imtech’s announcement in Geneva, and it contained a profile on Kirby.
“Don’t you get it. In Mexico Montoya is known as the Cat. The Cat. And now she goes missing on Halloween night and, shit, we all know she’s not coming back, right? Then her killer turns up dead with a bullet in the back of his head… Spooky, huh?”
“Give me a break.”
Parker had returned from Juneau at noon the day before, but had been unable to get in contact with Richard Kirby. Now the office was crackling with speculation about his possible role in the disappearance of Montoya. Parker herself was shocked. Not about the rumors of Kirby’s involvement — she knew perfectly well how such trash got started in newspaper rooms — she was simply stunned that Kirby had any connection with Montoya at all. She had missed it completely.
The phone rang and Parker gladly picked up. The operator asked if she would accept a collect call from a Mr. Juneau.
Juneau? “I’ll take it,” she said. She wasn’t sure who was trying to contact her, but his alias had got her attention.
“It’s me. Can I talk?”
Parker recognized the voice. She placed her hand over the mouthpiece and looked at her colleague. “Do you mind?” The photographer pretended to look disinterested and walked away.
“Where are you?” she whispered into the phone. She glanced at the clock on the wall and saw that it was nearing ten-thirty. No one had heard from him since he’d disappeared sixteen hours earlier. “Do you know how many people are looking for you?”
“Never mind that right now,” Kirby said. “I need your help.”
“I don’t know. But something strange is happening and you’re about the only person I can count on at the moment…”
“And your wife?”
After a long pause he finally said, “I don’t know.”
Parker turned away from the newsroom and lowered her voice. “All right, Dr. Kirby,” she said. “What exactly do you want me to do?”
Irene Parker was standing in the alley behind her apartment building. Somebody was crouching in the shade of a dumpster with his shirt collar turned up toward his face. She recognized him immediately as he stood to meet her.
“Did you get the things I asked for?”
“I got them,” she said holding up a white paper bag.
Parker lived by herself in Mission Hills, only a few streets from the Union-Tribune. She showed Kirby up to the third floor and let them into her apartment. The place itself was sparsely decorated, but she had compensated for this with fine pieces of expensive furniture bought from Plummer’s to help mimic the atmosphere of her former New York apartment on Madison Avenue. Copies of the Wall Street Journal were piled in various places, the most recent on her kitchen table.
“Sorry,” she said clearing them away. “Old habits die hard.”
Kirby dumped the contents of the paper bag onto the table. Out tumbled a pair of sharp scissors, a comb, a razor blade, a pair of opaque black sunglasses, and a box of hair dye. He picked up the box.
“This is red.”
“So’s this,” Parker said, tapping at her chin to indicate the two days of facial hair Kirby had acquired since last shaving. “I noticed it the day I met you for lunch. If you really want to disappear, I’d suggest leaving the razor on the table. With a couple of days growth and the hair dye, I doubt even your closest friends would be able to see through it.”
“Well,” he said slowly, as though trying to imagine the incongrous realities that awaited a life on the run. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”
It took an hour to transform him. By the time Rawley arrived, Parker had both shortened the length of Kirby’s hair and changed the color. Kirby was sitting in a square of sunlight, drying his hair and trying out the black sunglasses when Rawley first caught sight of him.
“Forget that,” Kirby said tossing the glasses aside and crossing the room. “What happened last night? Where’s my wife? Weren’t you supposed to be watching her? Or doesn’t the CIA train you guys how to do that these days?”
“The CIA?” Parker said.
The two men ignored her.
“You’re right,” Rawley said. “I screwed up. I’m sorry. Really.”
Kirby and Rawley squared off at each other for several seconds.
“So what happened?” Kirby said, easing up finally.
Rawley went over the events of the previous evening. He finished with an account of what he thought he had seen taking place on the roof of the hospital. He mentioned the helicopter and said he felt certain it was Cassie he’d seen placed inside it.
“Are you sure?” Kirby asked him. “It was dark, wasn’t it?”
Rawley shrugged. “No one else has been able to account for why that chopper was there.”
Kirby nodded. “What about this Dr. Price you mentioned?”
“Looked like he had a game leg. Had to be the guy I saw on the bridge.”
Parker tried to get them to sit down, but Kirby was too restless. He kept moving.
“You think these guys from the bridge had anything to do with what happened to Montoya?” he asked Rawley.
“Not if you’re thinking they put your wife in the hospital just to get Montoya out there.”
“Two reasons. First one is that too many things can go wrong. Who’s to say you’ll even try to get Montoya there? Who’s to say she’ll go? Second, those guys weren’t out to merely hurt Cassie. They’d have killed her if they’d been able to manage it. In that case, you wouldn’t have been in any shape to even approach Montoya…” Rawley shook his head. “No. I think we’re looking at two separate incidents.”
Kirby gave a nervous laugh, and his expression turned solemn. “Who would want to kill my wife?”
“I don’t know,” Rawley said. “But there is something that’s been bothering me. Something Rosen said to me at the hospital.”
“You spoke with him?”
“Came up to me outside Cassie’s room.”
“How did he know about her…?” Kirby said to himself.
“It just occurred to me. How did Dan know that Cassie was in the hospital?”
“Could he have heard about the accident on the traffic report?” Parker asked.
Kirby shook his head. “They don’t release names of accident victims before the relatives have been contacted. Yet he got there barely twenty minutes after me… Something else I just remembered. When I mentioned Cassie was having trouble seeing he asked me whether it was as a result of the accident. Why would he ask that?”
“What else could it have been due to?” Parker said.
“That ties in with the thing that’s been bothering me,” Rawley said. “Rosen was under the impression that Cassie had sustained a bad head injury. He seemed very interested when I told him she hadn’t. And somehow he knew that I had been on the bridge with her just after it happened.”
“So wait,” Parker said. “Let’s try to sum this up. Rosen arrives at the hospital. Apparently he already has knowledge of the accident — ”
“It was no accident,” Rawley reminded her.
“He talks to you,” she continued, pointing at Kirby, “and discovers your wife has suffered some loss of sight. But for some reason he doesn’t immediately attribute this to a result of what happened to her on the bridge.” Parker turned to Rawley. “Then he probes you for more information and discounts the possibility of her condition being due to a head injury…”
Rawley stared at her. “You’re saying Rosen thought he knew what this was due to?”
“How could he?” Kirby said. “There was nothing wrong with…”
A distant look came over him, as though he had remembered something relevant.
“What is it?” Parker said.
“It’s not true,” he said looking down at the floor. “There was something wrong with her. The doctor who examined her when they brought her in asked me if Cassie had been diagnosed with any form of lung disease.”
“Lung disease?” Parker said.
“It seemed ridiculous at the time. She did have a bad cold coming on, a bad cough. But that was the extent of it.”
“How’s this related to her blindness?” Parker said.
Kirby shook his head. He didn’t know.
“What about this lab you mentioned?” she asked. “The one nobody knows about?”
It was something Kirby had babbled about while she cut his hair. In his state of heightened anxiety, she had judged him too preoccupied with the loss of his wife to take in fully what Parker had learned on her trip to Juneau. She was still waiting for the right time to bring it up.
“The lab?” Rawley said. “You found it?”
“Not exactly.” Kirby confirmed that Boehlert had at least been right about the second elevator, and he described the thermographic lock he had found guarding access to it. “Whatever it is they have down there, they’ve certainly taken a lot of trouble to keep it secret.”
“I think I know what it is,” Parker said. “It’s what they brought back from that glacier. And I’ll bet it’s the same thing that got Frey killed.”
Parker told them how someone had exhumed the bodies of two gold miners from the Mendenhall Glacier. “It was at the same place Frey had the guide take him. I think it had to be him who arranged to have those bodies dug up.”
“I’m getting a real bad feeling about this,” Kirby said. “What did they die of?”
Parker looked disappointed. “No record. All I could get was their names and the date they died.”
“When was that?” Rawley said.
Parker got up and found her notebook. “Here it is… January, nineteen nineteen. Mean anything?”
Rawley’s mouth dropped open. He looked at Kirby. “Holy shit. January, nineteen nineteen? Lung disease?”
Parker sensed immediately that she had overlooked some obvious connection. She saw it in their faces.
“The Great Pandemic…” Kirby whispered. He suddenly looked pale.
“The What?” Parker said.
“The Spanish Flu Pandemic of nineteen eighteen,” Rawley explained. “Broke out at the end of the summer in Europe. Brought the war to an end. Then it spread around the globe in a few short months. Killed over twenty million people, and then just vanished. Practically overnight.”
“They must be crazy…” Kirby muttered.
“You mean somebody at Imtech is playing around with this thing?” Parker said. “How’s that possible? Didn’t you say it vanished overnight? That was over eighty years ago.”
“I don’t know about influenza,” Rawley said. “But the smallpox virus can survive without a host for decades. It just sits around like another speck of dust until someone comes along and bumps into it. You said those bodies were frozen, right?”
“Well, that’s exactly what you’d do to preserve a strain of virus you’d just isolated. You’d stick it in the freezer. Maybe, just maybe, that nineteen eighteen strain’s been sitting up there on that glacier all this time.”
“Like suspended animation,” Parker said. She turned to Kirby, opened her mouth to ask him whether there was any chance his wife could somehow have become infected, and stopped.
He was staring out across the city, tears forming slowly in his eyes.
Kirby felt numb. Was it possible? Could Rosen really have allowed himself to become involved in something as dangerous as the resurrection of an almost-forgotten plague? It would explain the secrecy. It would explain a lot of things. Kirby remembered that he had overheard Rosen talking to McCormick in the lobby the day before. Rosen’s words came back to him. Cock this one up and the whole fucking country will have to deal with the consequences. Rosen had known he had a big problem on his hands. Now it looked as if that problem had been Cassie.
Kirby’s head was swimming with possibilities. On an emotional level he felt numb, but his analytical side was feverishly trying to discount the evidence before him.
For Cassie’s sake he was inclined to dismiss Rawley’s speculations as ludicrous. The enduring nature of the smallpox virus, after all, was exceptional. This was partly because of its size, which approached that of a small bacterium. But principally it was due to the way in which the proteins on its surface formed a cubical crystalline cage that made it almost impervious to the elements. Influenza wasn’t like that. It was much closer in structure to the HIV virus, whose protective envelope was so utterly delicate that it behaved in air more with the fleeting longevity of a finely blown soap bubble than the sugar-cube stability of a pox virus.
Kirby would have liked to dismiss as a scientific impossibility the idea that a strain of influenza could lay dormant for so long. But he could not. The natural world had a habit of pulling the rug out from even the most cherished beliefs. And this was a subject on which no one in the room possessed any real expertise.
But Kirby certainly knew someone who did.
He looked at Rawley. “Eugene Anders. I introduced you to him early in the week.”
Rawley caught on, and nodded. “The guy who heads the Influenza Division.”
“Anders called me from the hospital last night while I was out at the Training Center.”
“How did he know you were there?” Parker said.
“He didn’t. He just tried my beeper. But the thing is, I told him where I was. He said he would contact the police for me.” Kirby shook his head. “That wasn’t the only thing he lied about. He told me he had just spoken to Cassie. I know now that that can’t have been true. According to Kevin she was already missing by then.”
He went over the events leading up to his fall from the catwalk. He told them he remembered nothing after blacking out in the gymnasium until he woke up that morning in an alley in El Centro.
“So Anders didn’t call anyone,” Parker said. “At least not until someone had done a good job of implicating you in Montoya’s disappearance.”
The conclusion was that Anders had been the one responsible for getting Kirby into the mess he was now in. But Kirby resisted the idea. In the short time he’d known him, Anders was the one person he had always been able to count on. He was a friend. Or was he? Kirby’s gut tightened when he thought about how Anders had lied to him about Cassie.
“That doesn’t make sense,” Rawley said. “Let’s suppose we’re right about Imtech and for some fucking reason they’re trying to breathe life into an eighty year old microbe. Let’s even say Anders is behind it. What has this got to do with Montoya? My guess is nothing. He didn’t even know she was coming to San Diego. Did he?”
Kirby shook his head. Anders had even been out of town when Ramirez had contacted him about a possible visit. Only Rumi Sato had known, and he was confident that she was trustworthy.
“How bad is this Spanish Flu?” Parker said. “Could it do as much harm as last time?”
“I don’t see what would stop it,” Rawley said. He explained that the current world population had almost no previous exposure to the 1918 strain. The only ones who did were at least eighty years old. The rest of the population had no more resistance to it than those who had faced it the first time around.
“And yet we’re actually considering the possibility that your wife may somehow have been exposed to this,” Parker said to Kirby. “Through what? Some sort of accident?”
Kirby didn’t answer.
“And somebody at Imtech finds out about it,” Rawley said.
“It makes sense,” Parker said rolling with the idea. “Look at it from Rosen’s point of view. Say you’re him, and you discover that the wife of one of your employees has been exposed to a deadly pathogen — one that’s contagious and which you’ve taken every possible measure to keep secret about. Most of your own employees don’t even know it’s on the premises. What are you going to do to minimize the risk of further infections? You can’t risk telling her she’s got the thing. She’s bound to go public with it. So what do you do? What is the easiest possible option? Before things get out of hand?”
Rawley leaned back in his chair. “Have her killed before she can infect the next person.”
“Jesus,” Kirby said. Their talk was making him feel sick.
“That’s how Rosen ended up at the hospital,” Parker said. “He rushed over when he found out things hadn’t gone according to plan.”
“He was taking a risk,” Rawley observed.
“He couldn’t afford not to,” Kirby said, trying to suppress his growing revulsion for the topic. “Hospitals are notorious breeding grounds for disease. Particularly if the patient hasn’t been properly diagnosed. Only this time she was. The doctors hadn’t figured out what they were dealing with, but they did isolate her from the other patients.”
“Then Rosen arrives,” Parker said. “He must have been relieved to find her in quarantine.”
“I don’t think so,” Kirby said. “He was probably panicking.”
“Why? She can’t infect anyone.”
“Maybe. But the fact that she’s in quarantine means the doctor’s are onto it.”
Rawley nodded. “So he has to get her out of there…”
The three of them fell silent.
Finally Parker spoke. “I don’t mean to sound cold, but why didn’t Rosen just have someone do the job while she was sleeping? I mean, it sounds as though they went to a lot of trouble to get her out of there. Why?”
“Obviously because they feared an autopsy,” Rawley said.
Neither Parker nor Rawley seemed to notice the cold sweat breaking on Kirby’s face.
“In that case,” Parker said, “why try to push her off the bridge? They’d still have the same problem once the coroner’s office recovered the body.”
Rawley didn’t think so. “The difference is that the cause of death from falling twenty stories into the sea while trapped inside a car is relatively easy to ascertain. So is being shot full of holes with a heavy-gauge shotgun. You don’t need a thorough autopsy for that. But even if one was performed, how likely is it that anyone would pay attention to a case of the flu?”
“But they screwed up on the bridge…” Parker reflected. “So by the time she got to the hospital they were left with no other choice. They had to take her, or risk — ”
Kirby suddenly bolted past them and ran to the bathroom. He dropped to the floor and began throwing up in the toilet.
When he came out again the other two looked almost as pale as he did.
“You OK?” Parker asked. “I’m sorry if — ”
Kirby held up a hand. “I’m all right,” he said looking around. “Where’s your phone?”
Parker pointed it out.
Rawley looked at him oddly. “Who are you going to — ”
“If Rosen’s behind this then that means he knows where my wife is.”
Kirby moved toward the phone. But Rawley jumped up to cut him off.
“What are you going to do?” he said. “Call him and ask where Cassie is?”
“Get out of my way.”
Kirby tried to get past him. His shock had finally given way to searing anger. His whole body was trembling.
“Hold on, Richard. You’re not thinking straight, man.” Rawley held a prefatory finger in the air. “Don’t forget you’re wanted by the FBI. In all probability they’ve put a tap on Rosen’s phone. You have to ask yourself, Do you really want to end up trying to explain to the feds where Montoya is, or do you want to find your wife?”
Rawley’s words went through Kirby like a knife. He suddenly saw how easy it would have been to blow things completely. Rawley was right. In Kirby’s excitement Montoya had slipped his mind. But there were dozens of federal agents who had not forgotten her, and who were anxious to know exactly what part he had played in her disappearance.
How was he to explain what had happened out near the lake? That someone had framed him? That someone had killed the man responsible for Montoya’s abduction and made it appear that Kirby had been the one? Was he supposed to tell them that that person was probably Eugene Anders, and that it was all somehow connected to a conspiracy at Imtech which involved the retrieval of a phoenix-like life form, the death of an old friend, and now the disappearance of his wife?
Who would believe him? Where was the proof for any of it?
Kirby backed away from Rawley. He slumped down on Parker’s sofa.
“All right,” he said. “Just tell me how we find her.”
Parker switched off the television. Most of the news stations were replaying snippets of the President’s earlier statement from the White House. Rawley had expressed surprise on hearing that the Navy had lost a plane while investigating the possible seizure of a U.S. oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. “Looks to me like they’re getting a little excited down there in the Palace. But taking out an American pilot? That’s just plain dumb.”
Except for the Gulf incident — which Parker had heard something about earlier at the office — they learned nothing very useful. “He didn’t even mention you,” she said dropping back into the chair across from Kirby.
“That’s OK by me. Someone else can have the spotlight for a while.”
“He can’t afford to mention Richard,” Rawley said. “At least, not without making himself look bad.”
“You’re right,” Kirby said sarcastically. “Now that it turns out his wife has been supporting a terrorist all these years.”
Kirby shook his head. He didn’t bother telling them that the First Lady had never contributed a dime to the company’s research. The irony was that the scam was supposed to have been a public relations coup for the White House, but instead it had blown up in the President’s face. More importantly, however, it had probably helped to buy Kirby a little breathing space now, when he desperately needed it. Coleman could take care of his own mess. The only thing Kirby cared about now was finding his wife.
If Rosen had been responsible for her disappearance then there was only one place it seemed she could be. “She has to be in that lab.”
“The one in the basement?” Parker said doubtfully. “Wouldn’t that mean a number of other people would have to know about her? Are they all going to turn a blind eye to a kidnapping? That’s a federal crime.”
“Where else then?”
Parker thought the lab idea unlikely, but then neither she nor Rawley had been able to come up with a better place to start.
“Even if she is there,” Rawley said. “It’s not as though any of us can simply walk in there and find out.” He explained to Parker that unless Imtech’s security system had a record of your voice print in its computer, and you had keycard access to the elevator, then it was impossible to even get past the lobby. “And that’s supposing they let you in the gate to start with. Even if Richard were to go, there’s still the matter of the thermo-lock on the elevator in the basement.”
“And feds parked at the gate waiting for him,” Parker noted. “So where does it leave us?”
Kirby had an idea. “Maybe we don’t need to get inside. Maybe I can convince Rosen to bring her out.”
“Why would he do that?” Parker said.
“Because I have something of his that he’s going to want back.”
He turned to Rawley. “Remember that newspaper clipping I showed you? The one about Juneau that Arnie’s wife gave me?”
“Yeah? What about it?”
“There was also a disk. A computer disk. I didn’t think much of it at the time because all it had on it was a copy of Arnie’s protein folding program and some protein sequences.”
“So at the time I figured they were probably carefully chosen test cases to showcase his program. Examples that demonstrated how well it worked… But I don’t think that’s what they were.”
“Then what were they?”
“I think they’re a blueprint of the virus Rosen had brought back from Juneau. Arnie left the disk in Debreu’s office the day he died. It had to be what got him killed. They thought he was going to tell someone what he knew.”
“Where’s the disk now?” Parker said.
“It’s in my office.”
Parker frowned. “Great. Not that it’s likely to be there now. Not if you had federal agents going through your office. And no doubt Rosen before that. The feds probably wouldn’t have known what they were looking at, but I’ll bet Rosen didn’t take any chances.” She must have noticed the look on his face. “What? What is it?”
“I copied it onto my hard disk at home,” he said almost smiling. “We just have to go back there.”
Parker turned to Rawley. “Can we do that? Won’t someone be watching the house?”
Rawley nodded and glanced at Kirby. “I have to admit, that dye job is pretty wild. But it wouldn’t fool an FBI surveillance team for more than three seconds.”
“Meaning we send one of you two?” Kirby said skeptically. “Do you even know how to start up a PC?”
Rawley shifted uncomfortably. “There’s still her,” he said, nodding at Parker.
“I don’t know,” Kirby said looking at her. “How good are you at chopping broomsticks?”
“How good am I at what?”
He told them about the login program that he had installed on his PC in the naive belief that it would keep his daughter at bay. Parker would be faced with the demanding task of putting out the fire in the Sorcerer’s castle by whacking at broomsticks with the mouse. “You either beat the flames back or get dumped off the system. You can’t get around it,” he told them.
Parker stared at him as though his installation of the program had been one of the dumbest things he’d ever done. He was beginning to feel that way himself.
“If I just keep plugging away at it,” she said. “How long?”
“Then we don’t have a choice,” Rawley said. “It’s got to be you who goes.”
“There’s one other problem.” Kirby explained about the security system on the house — how it was wired to the local Sheriff’s Office. If Cassie had activated it the day before on the way out then there was no way of getting inside without setting it off. Normally he could have deactivated it with the remote on his key chain, but his keys had vanished along with the rest of his personal items. That meant they’d probably have to break a window to get in.
“Can’t you turn off the alarm once you’re inside?” Parker asked.
“Not exactly. I’d have to phone it in that it was a false alarm.”
“Which in this case it wouldn’t be,” Rawley noted. “How long would you have? Supposing we got you past the watch on the house?”
“Before a Sheriff’s car shows? Six minutes. Maybe seven.”
“Could you log on and copy the files in that amount of time?”
Kirby thought about his own best time. It was two minutes six seconds. What other option did he have?
“I can do it.”
“Well then, I’d say it’s time we got a plan together.”
The two-by-two inch paper squares, each colored either pink or white — and which had been carefully prepared well in advance of the event — fluttered down like overweight butterflies toward the motorcade winding slowly through the streets of Mexico City. Band music blared forth from speakers mounted on the roof of the car leading the procession. Four cars back, the newly self-proclaimed leader of the Mexican people stood on the passenger seat and leaned out through an open sunroof. Across his shoulder he wore the brightly-colored Presidential sash for all to see.
Confused citizens poured into the streets to find out what all the commotion was about, only to be stunned by the celebratory mood that engulfed the motorcade less than twelve hours after the news of Montoya’s disappearance. The paper squares tapped gently at the people’s heads and collected about their feet. Children scooped them up and handed them to their parents who read a message printed across the squares in tiny red lettering: FOLLOW PRESIDENT SOLANO TO THE ZÓCALO!
The rumor quickly spread that the new president would speak in the square.
By the time he reached the Zócalo people were spreading across the pavement to secure a place to stand. The television crews were already in place, apparently having been tipped off to the event in advance.
Sergio Solano disappeared into the National Palace. Fifteen minutes later he stepped out onto a balcony high above the square. The same balcony on which Montoya had once stood. The crowd immediately fell silent.
Next to Solano stood his brother Mario. The general’s presence was a signal to the crowd that Solano’s new position as head of the country had the full backing of the military.
“Our Lady is dead!” Solano pronounced.
His words electrified the crowd. Not only had he told them that she was dead, Solano had first elevated the people’s choice to the status of ‘Our Lady’ before wrenching her away from them forever. It had the effect of amplifying their loss tenfold.
The crowd murmured in disbelief.
“It is true,” Solano declared. “One of our own people witnessed the massacre!”
The President turned and motioned for someone behind him. A youth, perhaps seventeen years of age with a bandaged head, stepped cautiously to the edge of the balcony.
“What did you see?” Solano implored of him. “Where is the President?”
The youth mumbled something into a microphone that had been specially set up.
“Speak louder!” Solano told him. “Tell the people what you saw!”
The youth threw his head back and yelled out. “I saw them shoot her in the neck!”
The crowd gasped. There were shouts of anger.
“Are you sure?” Solano asked his witness.
The youth climbed up on a chair and everyone saw that he was carrying a white plastic bag. Quickly he reached in and pulled something out. He held it high for the crowd to see. It was a bright orange turban — the sort that Montoya was known to wear — and it was covered in blood. “They slaughtered her like a pig!” the boy cried out.
People in the square below believed what they were seeing. Women began to scream hysterically. Men crossed themselves. Contorted faces yelled for an explanation.
Solano looked at the red stains on the orange cloth with concealed amusement. Look at them, he thought. They weep for chicken blood!
His brother Mario, whom the President had been the first to convince of Montoya’s unjustly death, hung his head in grief.
“Who?” Solano yelled out. “Who did this to her?”
It was the Americans, Solano repeated. The ones who had stolen land from their forefathers. The ones who today were growing rich off the very oil fields they had swindled from the People. “That which was to be the patrimony of everyone. The birthright of Mexico!” These were the people responsible for Montoya’s death. The ones who had conspired in every way possible to keep theirs a nation of debtors.
It was the Americans. Montoya’s death was just another page turned in the long history of their continued oppression of Mexico. It was always the same. For all their fancy talk, they treated their southern neighbors with the same respect they would accord a herd of lame goats.
Solano taunted them. “Are you a nation of goats?” he asked.
“No,” the crowd yelled back.
“Are you goats?” he asked again, louder still.
“No!” the crowd roared back.
“No,” Solano reassured them. “You are not.”
Under his direction, he told them, Mexico had already struck a retaliatory blow in the name of their fallen leader. As of five that morning, Solano announced, he had nationalized the Mexican oil industry. All foreign oil operations had been expropriated, he explained, not just those of the Americans. Every nation that had drilled for Mexican oil had robbed the country of its sovereignty. Every one of them must be made to pay, Solano declared. But especially the Americans.
The crowd listened intently as Solano proceeded to explain the reaction of their northern neighbor on learning that Mexico had exerted its birthright. With astonishment they learned that the U.S. had sent in jet fighters to reclaim the offshore platforms. Solano described how the American planes had opened fire on Mexican troops, killing scores of unarmed soldiers who had been sent to oversee the smooth transition of the oil fields back into Mexican hands.
By now the people in the square were incensed as they easily conjured forth images of the latest massacre. So when Solano recounted the downing of the American F-22N, a victorious roar of gratification erupted from the square. He had delivered them the intoxicating sensation of vengeance. It was only natural that they would now cry out for more.