Ningún Santuario Pt. 2
“Well, well, well…I gotta tell you, Andy, I really didn’t expect you to actually make it out here. How was the trip?”
“Oh, it was a fucking pleasure cruise. Don’t even tell me you don’t have a beer for me.”
“But of course. Come on in, we’ll unload your shit later.”
Grace’s house was in the suburban outskirts of Albuquerque; one of those ubiquitous southwestern adobe-style structures with the dark wood beams protruding from it at uniform intervals, as if they were the only thing keeping the house from collapsing into itself. An almost impossibly large cactus stood inches from her driveway and as far as I could tell in a cursory glance, this was the only thing approaching vegetation on the entire property. We walked inside and paused briefly to hug each other just inside the door, then headed for the kitchen. Grace opened the fridge and handed me a cold Negra Modello as I took a seat and propped my feet up on the kitchen table. She grabbed one for herself and sat down across from me.
“It’s great to have you here, Andy. Cheers.”
With a clinking of bottle tops, we took the first swigs of an alcohol-drenched evening. Grace had two six packs on the ready for my impending arrival and we made at least two more runs to the corner Allsups to restock.
The conversation was light-hearted, flirtatious, and almost certainly slurred. From time to time, we stepped out onto the back patio for a smoke and the cool nighttime desert air gave us a mutually sought after excuse to huddle closer to one another. Though we had spoken much in recent months, I hadn’t seen Grace since she had moved out west over a decade ago. To my surprise, she had never looked better.
The first emerging halo of dawn began to creep upwards into the blackness. Yawning, Grace rose and turned toward the house.
“Well, Andy, I’ve about had it. You can grab a blanket from the linen closet and crash on the couch. I’m so glad you’re here.”
I lay down on the sofa, dozing off as soon as my head hit the pillow.
I was jarred suddenly into wakefulness by a piercing scream coming from down the hall. Hastily pulling on my jeans, I ran towards Grace’s room. The door was ajar and when I peered inside, I was horrified to find my eyes once again meeting that familiar dead stare. He was standing over Grace’s motionless and bloody body, a dripping red machete dangling at his side. The corners of his cracked lips rose in a sadistic grin as he gazed at me and slowly lifted the machete into the air, taking one lumbering step towards the doorway. I turned and tore off down the hallway, tripping and fumbling my way towards the front door. I ran out into the early morning air and stopped at the end of the driveway to catch my breath, peering up at Grace’s window. I couldn’t discern his silhouette in the room and stepped cautiously backwards in anticipation of his appearance at the front door. Slowly retreating, a sudden obstruction from the rear caused me to spin around to see him standing directly behind me, smiling from ear to ear, exposing a haphazard set of greenish pellet-like teeth as he raised the blade high above my head.
My eyes popped open as a muted scream escaped my throat. Drenched in sweat, I looked wildly around the room as reality began to settle slowly back into my consciousness. Fuck. I got up and wiped the sweat from my brow with the edge of my T-shirt and headed toward the kitchen to forage through Grace’s cabinets for coffee. That face continued to loom at the forefront of my psyche, as tangible as when I had first encountered him at that Podunk gas station, while my shaking hands tried feebly to peel one coffee filter from the conical stack. After clumsily performing the task of starting the percolator, I grabbed a washcloth from the edge of the sink and wiped up the excess grounds that had scattered on the counter from my spasmodic hand spooning the coffee into the basket. I sat back down on the sofa with my head in my hands waiting for the coffee to brew.
I was on my third cup of coffee, a newspaper I had grabbed from the front porch spread open on the table, when Grace emerged from her room, yawning and rubbing her eyes. Despite the fact that I knew it had been a dream, an overwhelming sense of relief came upon me when I saw her.
“Any coffee left?” she asked.
“Yeah. Want me to pour you one?”
“I think I can handle it. How’d you sleep?”
“Just fine,” I lied.
“When did you get up?”
“A few hours ago.”
“Damn. Well, you should have no problem landing a decent job out here with sleeping habits like that. Most New Mexicans seem to have a hard time ending their tequila-induced siestas early enough to hold a nine to fiver. And I gotta admit, I’m kinda one of ’em now. Welcome to the Land of Mañana .”
Grace sat down next to me and placed her mug down on the table next to mine, holding her bathrobe closed at the neck.
“So can I impose on you for a bit of a grand tour today after you get yourself together? It’ll sure be nice to be in a car with someone else driving, for a change.”
“It’ll be my pleasure. Kind of strange looking out here when you first see it, eh?”
“You got that right. Oddly unsettling…but I’ve always sorta liked things that way. I’m sure I’ll adapt swimmingly.”
“Up here…I think I found it, Guys.”
Sgt. Martinez gripped the handle of his revolver and cautiously approached the skeletal remains of a former hovel at the top of the dusty rise. Lying on its side in front of the entrance was a doorless Amana refrigerator that looked to have been manufactured sometime in the 1950s. Flies buzzed furiously around the remains of the small building frame, and Sgt. Martinez swatted mechanically with his free hand as he stepped over the long-defunct appliance and entered the litter-strewn shack. Once inside, he was immediately bombarded by the overwhelming stench of death. Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket and holding it over his nose and mouth, he bent over the body that was laying face-up in the center of the room. The eyes were still open and the lack of decomposition seemed to imply that his death had occurred fairly recently. A faded corduroy John Deere cap was on his head, and a rusted machete lay at his side, just out of reach of his extended right arm. The sergeant backed out of the doorway into the arid afternoon air and walked towards the two patrolmen who had accompanied him.
“It’s him,” he said flatly. “Ring up headquarters and tell them to get a coroner out to mile marker 26 on the Turquoise Trail; tell them we’ll keep the patrol car parked on the shoulder so he can find us.”
Martinez pressed a cigarette between his lips and lit it while his underlings carried out their orders. He glanced backwards towards the shack one last time, then turned and walked slowly towards the small church cemetery that bordered what he could only guess had been this man’s unofficial “property” just days ago.
“Jesus H. Christ,” he muttered to himself while exhaling a wafting nebula of smoke into the wind. “Just once, I’d like to get assigned to a murder case where someone actually gives a fuck about the victim.”