Philemon went straight to the Church of Our Lady. Inside was so dark he had to strain to see anything. Finally, he spotted Luzanne and Paul in a dark corner pew waiting for him as instructed.
Luzanne stood up immediately and grasped his hand.
“What’s wrong? What’s happened?” she whispered.
“I can’t tell you,” Philemon replied.
The three of them huddled close.
“You must go on to the airport.”
“But Philemon,” Luzanne began to object.
“I’ll be there as soon as I can. But you must go now. Without me.”
Philemon looked to Paul to carry out his wishes.
“Come on, Mother. We must do what he says.”
“But you will come, right?” she pleaded.
“I will be there as soon as I can. But if for some reason I’m delayed, then promise me you’ll get on that plane without me.”
Luzanne gasped at the thought. “No! I will not.”
“Philemon, I don’t want to lose you a second time.”
Paul stepped away and waited, trying not to watch or listen.
“Come back with me,” Luzanne pleaded.
“Please. I’ll help you find a place to live.”
“I can’t let you do that.”
“Why not? I want to.”
“And your husband?”
“He doesn’t have to know about us. I’ll tell him you’re a friend of Paul’s. It’s true.”
“See, knowing me is already corrupting you. I can’t let that happen.”
“Oh Philemon,” Luzanne said, eyes filling with tears, “Where will you go then?”
“Nowhere. I’m going to stay right here.”
“They’ll kill you,” she whispered.
“So? At least I know who the bad guy is.”
“I can’t bear the thought of it. Please come back with me. If it doesn’t suit you, you can always leave.”
“Lu, that’s no life for me. Waiting every day wondering if I’ll get to see you. Or seeing you and not being able to touch you.”
Luzanne started softly weeping.
“Or we sneak around to be together,” he continued. “Is that what you want? The thought of it makes me sick.”
“So what will you do here?”
“Live. And then die. Either sooner or later. What’s one more head in the Cuaca River?”
“You’re not afraid?”
“Hell no. There’s nowhere else to go anyway. The power trips are the same everywhere. I’m more afraid of being back in L.A. stuck watching the beautiful people parade their vapid, nearly naked selves up and down the boardwalk while Icarus falls into the sea.”
“Then promise me you will at least stay in touch.”
“How do we do that, Luzanne?”
“I don’t know.”
“You send me a Christmas card,” he said sarcastically, “with a picture of you and your husband and kids and family dog. And it’s pre-printed with ‘Merry Christmas from the Brazils.’ And you secretly scribble a little note to me and sign your name. And when I get it I go insane, tear it into little pieces but somehow manage to save the part that has your face on it, and I stick that pathetic little piece that I get of you on the cracked mirror that I have to look at myself in every goddam day. Is that how?”
“I’m sorry, Philemon.”
“Don’t be. You have to go back to your life. He’s waiting for you. Like you said, he can’t live without you.”
“And you can?” she snapped.
“I guess I’m going to have to.”
Philemon embraced Luzanne and gently kissed her head, her forehead, the tears on her cheek, her hand. She threw her arms around his neck and they kissed long and hard.
“Go!” Philemon said suddenly, pushing her away.
Without hesitation, Paul took his mother by the arm and escorted her out of the church and into a nearby taxi which was unloading soccer fans and their baggage.
“Al aeropuerto, por favor,” Paul said.
“Perdón?” the driver asked as he looked over Paul’s athletic attire. “Usted no want for to stay aquí?
“No, Señor. Necesitamos aeropuerto. La mujer está mal. She is sick.”
“Sí, Señor. Sí, sí. Lo siento.”
The taxi took off.
Philemon watched until it disappeared and then hurriedly wound his way through the crowds, the outdoor cantinas, the food stands, shops, children begging tourists for money, the scraggly dogs, scrawny cats, roaming chickens, pig, cow, goat, donkey, and piles of fruit and painted pottery for sale, and all the time Philemon kept thinking he saw the black robes of Señor Bravista, but he was careful not to be visible for too long, darting in and out of the open air market where sides of beef were stacked high on wooden tables and covered with flies, a whole pig hung above it impaled on a steel rod, mounds of dead chickens, plucked and headless waited nearby, and women with their baskets and string bags milling every which way buying food, and through the maze Philemon cautiously made his way to Littorella’s door.
As Luzanne stood paying the taxi driver, four boisterous men in athletic gear crowded into the taxi’s back seat. More of the same were arriving at the airport looking for transportation or waiting for others. Luzanne noticed Paul blended right in and gave silent thanks to Philemon for seeing to his disguise.
She glanced around. No sign of Philemon. He’d be easy to spot. He’s not a small man, like Joe. Though Joe is stocky. But Philemon is taller, larger, heavier. Or is he? Maybe he just appears that way. Larger than life. Weightier. Tougher. Nothing to lose. A force to contend with. Masculine. Manly. She tried not to compare him to her husband but she couldn’t help herself. Her heart pounded remembering being in his hotel room, Philemon on top of her, kissing her. The sheer weight of him engulfed her. The kiss. She wanted him to take her, devour her, obliterate her. The kiss. Locked into one another. Like long, long ago. Only then, they were enjoined. And now. Again. Almost. She might have exploded right then if she hadn’t noticed Paul waving for her to join him.
“We board in one hour,” he said.
Paul took Luzanne’s arm and steered her towards the security line.
“Here’s your ticket and boarding pass. I already checked your bag.”
“Thank you, Son.” Luzanne choked back tears.
“Don’t worry, Mother. He’ll be here.”
They remained silent until they got through security and found seats near the boarding gate.
“I think I better walk around and try to blend in,” Paul said. “It’s safer that way.”
“Yes, you need to look like you’re arriving instead of departing.”
While Paul wandered around, Luzanne found a scrap of paper in her purse and scribbled her address and phone number on it and wrote “I love you.” She neatly folded it and clutched it in her hand.
Philemon pressed down on the latch and the heavy door creaked open. A cat startled him as it darted out the door between his legs.
“Son of a bitch” he grumbled.
Slowly Philemon entered Littorella’s apartment and carefully closed and locked the door.
Except for a ticking clock somewhere.
He slowly removed his shoes. He could feel the cool tile through his socks.
He listened again.
Now he heard another sound. A sort of raspy whirring coming from the room to the right off the foyer.
Philemon padded silently to the open door and listened.
Steady inhale, raspy exhale. Inhale. Exhale.
Someone was snoring.
He peeked around the corner to see Señor Bravista on his back on a bed, sound asleep. Quite a sight, this black mound on top of the white lace bedspread.
Philemon noticed Bravista’s right hand was swollen and bloody but other than that the man looked the same as always, not a hair out of place nor a whisker on his face nor dust on his black shoes which he had not removed.
Philemon continued silently past the room into the main living area. He stopped when he saw a broken lamp on the floor. The clock ticked above it on a shelf.
Philemon picked his way around the bits of pottery until he got to the other side of the room.
There on the floor between the end of the couch and the wall lay Littorella in a heap, still as death, her hair matted with blood and her face a mass of bruises that sealed her eyes shut.
“Jeezus,” he said out loud.
Philemon caught himself and listened. Beyond the ticking clock he could still hear the snoring. He knelt down and felt for a pulse. Littorella was still alive. He pulled a blanket off the couch and covered her with it. She didn’t move.
Philemon carefully made his way back across the room.
The clock kept ticking but the snoring stopped.
At that moment he knew the Cuaca River stopped flowing just for a split second.
Philemon slipped into the kitchen and picked up a butcher knife. He heard Bravista choke and cough as a man does when he wakes himself up snoring.
There was a low moan.
He heard it.
He knew Bravista heard it.
Littorella was coming to.
Bravista got up, straightened his robes and smoothed his hair with Littorella’s hairbrush. He lovingly examined his swollen hand, then looked in the mirror and admired his white teeth.
With great formality, Bravista poured himself a shot of tequila from the bottle on the bedside table and tossed it down his throat.
Littorella moaned again, only louder.
Bravista slowly smiled.
As he walked past the kitchen, he called to Littorella. “You whores are all the same. You refuse to die. Now why is that?”
Philemon stepped behind him and stuck the point of the knife into Bravista’s back.
“Que bueno, Señor Steed,” he said without turning around. “I knew you would come. Curioso. Like el gato.”
“Shut up,” Philemon said, pushing the knife a little further into his robes.
“Come on, Steed. It is no use. The game is up. Or how you Americans say, ’the show is over’.”
“I said shut up,” Philemon warned.
Littorella started to sit up. Just as Philemon glanced over at her, Señor Bravista jabbed his elbow into Philemon and he dropped the knife.
The two men fought to get the knife. Philemon couldn’t get hold of Bravista with all those robes. Bravista punched Philemon in the gut. Philemon kneed Bravista in the groin and then slugged him in the face. Bravista fell and grabbed the knife. Philemon kicked it out of his hand fell on top of Bravista, beating him repeatedly.
“Kill him,” Littorella muttered through her swollen lips.
Bravista fought back, catching Philemon’s nose with a hard, sharp left. Blood spurted everywhere.
“You fucking bastard!” Philemon screamed. “Now look what you did!”
“Kill him,” Littorella pleaded.
Philemon unleashed every ounce of rage he had within himself until he had Bravista’s head between his hands and was banging it repeatedly against the bloody tile floor with all his might.
And then he suddenly stopped.
It was over.
He was tired.
Sick and tired of it all.
And had been for a long, long time.
Bravista moaned and groaned with pain.
Littorella picked up the knife and limped over to Philemon.
“Here. Kill him.”
Philemon took the knife. He put the blade to Bravista’s throat.
“You killed Freddy, didn’t you? Didn’t you?” Philemon pushed the blade into Bravista’s neck.
Bravista’s eyes almost twinkled with delight.
“You killed the boy and then framed the padre.”
“He was mine,” Bravista managed to say.
“You son-of-a-bitch.” Philemon could almost hear Major the parrot in the background.
“Kill him, dammit!” Littorella screamed.
One quick swish of the steel and it would be bye-bye Bravista. But it wasn’t going to happen. Philemon flung the knife across the room.
He dragged Bravista back to the bedroom while Littorella stumbled behind, crying, “Está loco! Loco en la cabeza! You crazy man!”
Philemon closed the bedroom door before Littorella could enter, and locked it.
Littorella banged on the door. “Abre la puerta! Open now!”
When Philemon finally opened the door, Littorella fainted.
Now dressed in the black robes and hat of Señor Bravista, Philemon could safely leave the apartment without being followed.
Behind him, Bravista lay on the white lace bedspread tied up and gagged like a stuck pig trussed for roasting over an open pit. As a finishing touch, Philemon had blindfolded him with one of Litttorella’s black lacy bras.
Philemon carried Littorella to the couch and covered her again with the blanket.
Her swollen eyes struggled to open.
“Are you going to be alright?” Philemon asked. “I can send for a doctor.”
“I am okay. Not first time que un hombre me pega,” she sighed. “The men…they like to hurt me.” She closed her eyes again.
He patted her head and placed the knife beside her.
“He’s all yours,” Philemon whispered.
With so many turistas and hinchas coming and going, Philemon had no problem getting a taxi. And if anyone was watching the apartment, they would see only a priest in black hat and cassock hurrying off holding a white handkerchief to his nose.
To be continued….