rose nearby, one deep-toned and the other full of wheedle. I dropped back into my hole as though I were a jack-in-the-box.
Annamaria reached out of the shadows and found my hand. Or maybe I reached out and found hers.
I could not discern what the men were saying. Clearly, however, one of them was angry, and the other was making excuses.
A loud crash followed by a diminishing clatter suggested that the deep-voiced one had knocked over something or had thrown a heavy object at the excuse-maker.
As the argument continued, I realized that Annamaria’s hand in mine seemed to give me courage. My racing heart began to slow and my teeth unclenched.
The two men proved to be closer than I had first realized. To make a point, the angrier one pounded a hand three times on the hood or on a front fender of the sedan in which we had taken refuge.
THE DEEP-VOICED THUG, WHO MOST LIKELY HAD yellow eyes and a chin beard and a reservation for a bed of nails in Hell, pounded on the Mercedes again.
In our inadequate hidey-hole in the backseat of that very sedan, Annamaria squeezed my hand gently, reassuringly.
My eyes had adapted to the gloom. I could see her face just well enough to know that she was smiling as though to say that this would prove to be a temporary setback in our escape, that soon we would be skipping through meadows full of flowers, where iridescent butterflies would dance through the air to the sweet songs of larks and robins and bright yellow warblers.
I knew that she was not stupid, and I doubted that she would prove to be foolish. Consequently, I assumed that either she knew something that I did not or that she had more faith in me than my survival skills justified.
As the argument subsided, the voices grew quieter. Then they moved away from the Mercedes.
The garage light went off.
A door closed.
I could no longer see Annamaria’s face. I hoped that she was not smiling at me in the dark.
Although it is not a full-blown phobia, I am made uncomfortable by the thought of people smiling at me in the dark, even people as benign—and even as good-hearted—as this woman seemed to be.
In the movies, when a character in a pitch-black place strikes a match and finds himself face to face with someone or something that is grinning at him, the someone or something is going to tear off his head.
Of course, movies bear virtually no resemblance to real life, not even the kind that pile up awards. In movies, the world is either full of fantastic adventure and exhilarating heroism—or it’s a place so bleak, so cruel, so full of treachery and vicious competition and hopelessness that you want to kill yourself halfway through a box of Reese’s miniature peanut-butter cups. There’s no middle ground in modern movies; you either save a kingdom and marry a princess or you are shot to death by assassins hired by the evil corporation that you are trying to bring to justice in the courtroom of a corrupt judge.
Outside, a truck engine started. The noise ebbed, and silence flowed back into the night.
I remained slouched in the dark car for a minute, perhaps being smiled at, perhaps not, and then said, “Do you think they’re gone?”
She said, “Do
think they’re gone?”
Over dinner, I had agreed to be her paladin, and no self-respecting paladin would decide on a course of action based on a majority vote of a committee of two.
“All right,” I said, “let’s go.”
We climbed out of the sedan, and I used the flashlight to find our way to the man-size door in the south wall. The hinges creaked when it swung open, which I had not noticed previously.
In the narrow passage between the garage and the tall hedge, no one waited to tear off our heads. So far so good. But they would be waiting elsewhere.
After dousing the flashlight, I hesitated to lead her out to the driveway and the street, for fear that a sentinel had been stationed there.
Intuiting my concern, Annamaria whispered, “At the back,
Rodolfo Walsh, translation by Daniella Gitlin, foreword by Michael Greenberg, afterwood by Ricardo Piglia