by Martin Grise
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Augusto met Marcela, it seemed at the time, quite by accident. He had just led a raid against a cartel in an eastern favela, and the hour-long gunfight had attracted numerous onlookers and even international media despite the risk of stray gunfire.
When he emerged from the smoke-filled building, Augusto saw a young woman in the crowd that had gathered on the street. They made eye contact and Augusto stopped, staring. She was not unattractive, but neither did she stand out in any normal way. To the captain, however, it was as if she was bathed in light only he could see, in the same way an infrared spotlight is visible only to those wearing night-vision goggles. It had nothing to do with her nondescript appearance.
Confused but deeply compelled, he ignored his platoon and cautiously approached her, awkwardly introducing himself to the great amusement of the neighborhood ladies in attendance and asking to meet her the next available evening. The rest of the platoon just looked on in confusion. The episode made an intriguing epilogue to the recountings of the raid in the bars later that night.
By the time a person is in his mid-thirties, he no longer expects to encounter a completely new feeling. By then, most people are sufficiently experienced to have developed strategies, positive or negative, to deal with even their most powerful emotions. Augusto, however, had no experience in what he was feeling for Marcela. He had never felt affection for another human being, not even his mother, nor even his comrades-in-arms, which is the greatest attachment a man can form. He knew, from what he’d heard, that he must be in love. He’d seen and heard young men droning on and on about love since junior high school, and he certainly didn’t want to emulate their foolish behavior.
Augusto had heard stories of blind people who, through surgery, were finally able to see; some of them were so overwhelmed by the experience that they kept their eyes closed rather than remain open to the new rush of stimulation. He thought he understood. He was not sure if he regretted this sudden eruption, which distracted him with constant thoughts of her, his constant replaying of their conversations in his mind, his wondering what she was doing this moment, and his fear that this love affair couldn’t possibly last.
Psychiatrists said his sociopathy was insanity, but this, this “sanity” as they called it, was the craziest thing he’d ever experienced. He was, however, glad to be experiencing this at age forty-six, not as a teenager. He had a fully-developed ego that helped him weather the shock. But he had spent a lifetime as a sociopath and had never developed the skills for this. It was against everything he knew.
Dating Marcela was the hardest thing he’d ever done. He struggled to make clear and simple sense of what he was feeling, and stumbled in conversation to Marcela’s delight. He had no choice to confess his situation — that, emotionally, he was a boy to her woman — and, at first, she seemed not to believe him.
Eventually his sincerity overcame her doubts. She suggested that perhaps the analysts could help him sort out his feelings, but he had no reason to trust them, he said. They had put him down as a sociopath, a diagnosis that had obviously been incorrect. But the tactician in him knew it was a good idea to ask Marcela’s mother and aunts for advice, not just for the information they provided, but to get their approval simply by asking them to bestow their wisdom.
“What... what do people do together?” he asked Marcela.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean lovers. Besides this, I mean.”
“You take me out to dinner. You ask me what kind of drink I’d like, and laugh at my jokes, no matter how bad. And you should pay for everything.”
“I have heard that.”
“You should pick me up at my mother’s house. You must be exactly on time, but you’ll have to wait in the parlor while I put on makeup, change clothes again, and make us late.”
“But my mother and aunt will keep you company and serve you erva-cidreira and tell you how handsome you look. Anyway, the hard part for me comes later, when we’re married. Then I have to cook and clean for you and take care of the children.”
“It sounds like you’re getting the short end of the stick,” he said.
“That’s what it means to be a woman.”
Augusto thought that was patently unfair, and vowed to keep her unburdened after marriage. Maybe he could afford a housemaid? He’d never thought to look into it.
“You do want to marry me, don’t you?” she asked.
“Oh, certainly, my dear. When should we do that?”
“Oh... but, I mean...”
She laughed. “We should date for at least six months, then you should ask my mother for permission to marry me. Then you get us diamond rings. Not too grand. Then we remain engaged for a year, then we marry.”
“What happens if your mother doesn’t give us permission?”
“Then we marry anyway.”
“Good. I like the sound of that.”
“Anyway, she can’t deny you, because you are an officer. Didn’t your mother explain all of this to you?”
“I don’t think so,” he said. “Or if she did, I wasn’t listening. I didn’t think it applied to me.”
“Oh. A scar.”
“I can see that. I mean, from what?”
“I’m not sure you want to hear about it, darling,” he said.
“Oh, well... yes, you’re probably right. What about that one?”
“How many of these do you have?”
“Four or five.”
“Ugh. Well, it is your job.”
“Do you want me to take a desk job?”
“I wouldn’t ask you to do that,” she said.
“I’m considering it anyway.”
“Because I have something to lose now.”
“You’ve always had your own life to lose.”
“I never really cared about that,” he said. “I never thought it would be hard to die. No one depended on me. It was no loss to the world if I died.”
“Don’t say that.”
“It’s true. And it helped me, too. I could let go of myself. I wasn’t afraid. But now I have something to lose.”
And then he did lose her. She was kidnapped with five others from the Police Wives’ Auxiliary dinner. Now Augusto was fighting for something other than professional interest. He volunteered to lead the mission and was quite prepared to argue the point with command. He didn’t need to; the major always picked the best man for the job.
* * *
“Go back to the other room,” said Augusto.
The men, still slackjawed, silently obeyed from simple habit and training. The captain had enough stock with them to lead them through much worse.
They went back to the empty room and Augusto used the informant’s keys to open another door. He knew which key was the correct one.
“Infrared,” he said, digging out the goggles from this pocket. “Silent weapons only. Single file.”
He led them quickly down a dark hallway and down a flight of stairs. They could hear agitated voices from surrounding rooms and hallways.
Augusto turned left around a corner and instantly shot dead two men standing watch even before his men knew what had happened. He didn’t stop but started off at a trot, stepping over the corpses. Further on, there were double metal doors on one side of the hall and a single door across from them.
Augusto whispered over the radio, “When I blow the lock off those metal doors, two terrorists will come out of that door. Kill them.”
The men positioned themselves around the door, weapons raised, and Augusto quickly set the small PE-4 charge on the lock.
“How do you know that?” whispered Tomás.
The captain stepped back, blew the charge by remote, the opposite door flew open, and the two gunmen died in a fraction of a second.
“Captain,” said Caio, “you need to tell us what’s going on here.”
“I will, but not yet. We only have a few seconds.” He pushed open the metal doors. “Follow me.”
* * *
Copyright © 2017 by Martin Grise