Who is the "hit?" What is the real reason for the contract? It looks like anything or anyone offering help cannot be rejected in this God-forsaken nothingness.
The Ultimate Hit Contract
Part Three:It’s in The Fine Print
Seventeen hours after taking off from Gatwick, the Leer touched down at Lima=s International Airport. An hour after clearing an almost non-excitant customs Dickerson checked in the Pan American Rio California Hotel in Mira Flores. It was the historical base for the ruling, old money class.
He slept for nine hours and was awaken by a standard black line phone ring. A polite female informed him, " There=s a courier with a special delivery for you sir. He will not allow us to check it here at Reception. May I send him to your room?” The bell rang about ten minutes later and Cliff took the carrying case and a small hand bag before tipping. He was sliding both into the wall safety box, as another knock came.
Melba was leaning against the sill when he opened it. Cliff was surprised to see her, but not at all shocked she was now a very tanned with extremely long wavy brunt brown hair.
A Hi. Can I come in?"
A You can and stay as long as you damned well please."She stepped in." Hell, I didn=t expect to see you. You’re always a nice surprise. Been here long?" he asked as he closed the door.
A About fifteen minutes. But I can=t stay. I=ve got to be in Santiago, in five hours."
A I hope this is more than a hurry-up drop by call."
A No way, Jose!"
AThen let=s not waste any time," and he pulled her to him. "Jesus, I don=t think I=m ever gonna get enough of either your aromas or you." That got a giggle he cut off when he kissed her. She refused to let him take her to the airport. When he woke as she was opening the door.
For the following week Cliff shopped the local stores and markets for tight, bleached white native trousers, two Alpaca ponchos, one fairly light, the other double thickness then a few heavy woolen shirts and thick socks to match.
His second target was a truck. That took two full days before he found a Toyota with less than 100,000 kilometers on it and a cap over its bed. The green Tacoma needed new tires and he waited another day while it had a complete overhaul. While he waited he bought five 15 liter gas cans, and a propane camping stove.
It was early Monday, so early Lima was blanketed in a thick mist, when he climbed in and headed for the paved coast hugging Pan American Highway. After he filled all the reserve tanks he headed north to Trujillo about 300 miles as the road ran.
He arrived in Trujillo several hours after dark, checked into the best hotel, a two star, and had a wonderful sea food platter at a sea side restaurant. The next morning he turned east and headed up into the Andes, his objective Cajamarca, the department capital. He checked in and while taking a quick tepid shower, a rat ran over his bare foot. He slept in the hotel=s parking lot, in back of the Tacoma; his Glock automatic tucked under the edge of his air mattress.
The hundred and forty two miles from Cajamarca to Chachapoyas took nine hours. To get there he had to climb to a pass about five miles above sea level. The truck didn’t adapt as easily as its driver. It had a difficult time breathing at 15,000 or so feet. He had been blessed with the ability to adjust to altitudes or depths with remarkable ease.
The road lost its paving less than five Kilometers out of Cajamarca the transformed from hard packed earth into a rutted one early in his climb. It became a single trail once the slope became a first gear only grind. Once he reached the first plateau, about two hours up, it became a dry river bed. He laughed aloud at the image of the tire salesmen gawking when he bought not one extra spare but a full inflated set along with a hand tire pump and a case of canned compressed air.
The Andes= all wore stark white aprons about their crowns, but the slopes on all sides were terraced, irrigated and green with plant life. This was not coca leaves. Potatoes, potatoes and more potatoes. For a guy who really didn=t care for them no matter how they were prepared, Cliff was well informed as to their importance. They were the basic food for Highland Indians. Also the cause for their violent red, scabby cheeks since the majority of the Alta Plano=s population was deprived of vitamin C and that caused the rosy cheeks.
One look at the hotel offering in Chachapoyas and he drove a mile further up until he found a fairly level area . Once he decided it would be nice to spend the night under the stars, he set out his air mattress and sleeping bag, on a ridge fifty yards from the truck on a small knoll. He made a quick dinner from his freeze dry trove, and then sat in the truck, marveling at the constellations, the terrifying clearness, until the cold began seeping under the door sills. After two light Cognacs he took his weapon case over to his bag, got in, stripped down to his shorts and placed his Glock by his right hand. His M. 24 slept to his inside.
Glass shattering brought Cliff fully awake. Rising he could see two males on the driver=s side. After slipping on the poncho, softly thumbing round into his Glock=s chamber, he slid out of his bag, hunched down and ducked fifty feet to his left which gave him a clear view of both sides. There was a third male on the far side. He had broken the vent window. Cliff made sure they were only carrying machetes before he dropped onto the river bed. Instantly the trio faced him.
The window breaker half crouched and trying to disappear and move off to Cliff=s right. The duo started toward him, machetes slowly swinging in half arcs. The nearly full moon was a perfect back light. Cliff aimed at the single one and sent a round into his torso. The pair turned to flee and he dropped them one after the other before they covered ten yards. Then he squatted and began slowly counting to three hundred by ones.
The first was dead when Cliff eased over to him. The other two were still breathing but he was sure they were both semi-conscious when he placed a round behind each one=s left ear. Now he inspected the corpses. Two were tiny, thin with deeply burned cheeks. The other was tall, well developed and had almost white skin. He guessed they were all somewhere in their middle twenties.
The slight bulge in first kill=s pocket exposed two hundred dollars, twenty tens rolled neatly. The pair each had a hundred in the same denomination. More interesting and baffling was the folded photo of him, exiting the hotel in Lima. He stared at it for at least half a minute. The digital snap shot and the man=s complexion left no doubt that he was a target, but who was the hunter? More important, who was the employer?
Still deeply puzzled Cliff decided to leave some of the money on each body. After that he dragged them one by one and rolled each one over the ridge so they fell into a gully about fifty feet below the outcrop. Feral dogs and cats, crows and other scavengers would reduce them to bare bones by the time anyone discovered them and then he retrieved his sleeping bag, his mattress and the M24, put them back in the truck bed and drove back into town.
He did not bother waking the desk clerk. There were only two missing keys from the board, so he took two sets and once he picked his room, he didn=t bother to look at the bed. He spent the rest of the night sitting on the old overstuffed arm chair. It was fairly comfortable but he only dozed off and on until the sun came through the dirty single window.
It only took an hour for him to confirm that Bernardo had been there five weeks ago. He didn=t bother to verify any of his activities, but as he pulled out, heading back down, he did see a foundation just off the little zocolo. He stopped beside a woman selling dried peaches and she told him it was to be a school in three months. AAnd it will be the first school my people will be allowed to go and learn to read and write the singing language," she informed him in Nahuatl, the universal language of the Andean natives. Cliff didn=t let her know he understood her perfectly
When he asked in broken tourist Spanish where Bernardo said he was going, she shrugged. AThe blessed one travels south, only through the mountains. He brings life to us. But I cannot tell you where he is." She paused, as a smile flooded her lined and ruptured skin, "He is out there, everywhere, sir. He tries to tell the locos not to follow him, but there were at least twenty-five who trailed him like puppies." Cliff nodded, bought all her dried peaches and started down, still in first gear.
It took all day back tracking to Trujillo. The next afternoon he pulled into Chimbota, a dying fishing community, and headed back up another unpaved dirt track with Huarez his goal. After two long but not too steep rises, the road kept its paving even though the pitch of each new incline grew ever steeper. It took nine hours to climb the forty-nine miles to Huarez. From a slight rise overlooking it the town was in much better economic straits then the last two or three because the glaciers attracted gringo tourists. Cliff recalled that some years before a large piece of it tore loose and demolished two nearby villages. The hotel owner told him, "Bernardo and his locos were here two weeks ago, but he only stayed one full day, senor. He is a good man, but there are curs and whores who want to become saints treading in his foot prints."
The next morning he stayed in low gear, foot on the break and drifted back to the coast. He reached Lima and his accommodations in Mira Flores just after dark, but waited until ten to visit his favorite restaurant on the Plaza Mayor. Peering into the nearly empty brandy sniffer, he decided his best bet was Huancayo, but to get there he had to go through a pass that was almost 16,000 feet above sea level. He was positive the truck wouldn=t make it.
Next morning he booked the Tacoma on a flat bed railroad car and got a first class dining car ticket for himself. Once he settled down in a booth he pulled out a deck of cards and began playing a standard solitaire game. When the train reached the pass, Cliff climbed down to take a roll of film of the heavy-chested, short native soccer players charging back and forth on the stone strewn field. He had to smile as he thought about all the passengers needing constant oxygen infusions from a large square canvas bag carried by a white coated attendant from one end of the dining car to the other. He had=t needed any. The carrier gave him several glances of pure surprised admiration.
From the pass it was a slow gradual descent to Huancayo, a prosperous market town resting a little over 9,000 feet in a very lush fertile valley. The famous market was held every Tuesday and Saturday featuring a couple miles of textiles. Fifteen years before, when he came here for the first time, they were all hand spun and made from pure wool. Most were Alpaca, but a few stalls featured the outrageously expensive Vicuna. On his last trip it was difficult locating even a few real wool garments. He even found a couple piles of acrylics that had been spun in China.
After he claimed the Tacoma, he checked into a hotel located at the end of a steep paved lane. He took the bridal suite and spent a couple hours soaking in a tub made for three. Then he drove back into town and was surprised to find his favorite restaurant was not only still in business but under the same owner. There were only two taken tables. At one a couple of back packers were successfully getting very drunk on the local pisco. At the other was a lone woman, well into middle age, dressed in a finely tailored dark green suit, who nodded to him as he started to take a table beside the well polished picture window.
AHello,. she smiled." I think I know you. Didn’t you bring vitamin C up here for kids?"
AYep. But God, that was ..."
AUp here there is no time. Just dawn and sunrise. And we natives remember any face that stays for more than two days."
AMay I join you?"
AOf course. Why do you think I nodded and began the conversation? I=m starved to speak my native tongue." He sat, folded the napkin in his lap and grinned.
AOkay. I=m Kurt Landsburg. And you=re?"
ASarah Kirkpatrick … Actually doctor, widow and resident surgeon, mid wife, G.P. and ...,"she burst out laughing.
He asked a few mundane questions which she saw fit to slough off, so he ordered and began sipping at his Pisco Sour. Once settled she asked him if he was there for the market. He shrugged, voiced his opinion that the world was becoming an endless McDonalds a string of blaring bars or Tee Shirt centers. That got a sly nod and when she asked what why he was there, he told her about Bernardo Casovidies. That got a slightly cocked head.
“Strange there was a woman here yesterday asking about him. Dominic, our local priest, told me she was very anxious to find him."
“He’s been through?" When she inquired why he was interested in an itinerant quasi Holy Man he said. “I’m a free lance journalist hoping to write several articles on Bernardo and right now I’m down to my last couple hundred bucks. So if I can’t find this dude and write something that sells, I gotta go back to the States." He took a good hit before adding, “And I hate even the sound of that."
“Juan de Castro, our mayor, told Dominic he was sure this Phnom was headed for Ayacucho. If he is, he may get his head blown off. Lots of guerilla activity right now."
He mentioned there usually was, and how he had always ducked The Shining Path Freedom Movement. As soon as he could change the topic he asked,” How about your bio in ten sentences?"
”My husband and I came in here with Doctors Without Borders for a two year hitch. He was a very promising painter. Peter got shot two months before our time was up. I wasn’t going to leave his body here," she sighed. “The bastards wanted five grand in bribes to let me take his body home. Doctors tried and the bribe went up. So I buried him here and stayed on."
“Still with the Docs? … Good people… No political agendas."
“No. After two tours they want you to move on. So I went out and got funding from various sources, the latest is The World Bank. Over the years I’ve gotten a pretty good sized clinic established."
“Ever going home?" She shrugged.”And where is home Mrs ... I forgot your name.” They both laughed and left his question hanging in the thin air Cliff paid for her dinner after they had had two more sours and bid her good night.
The following morning he stopped by her clinic, a nice long single story adobe structure with a porch running all the way along its front. He gave the nurse listing names on a clip board an envelope with three thousand dollars and a note that told her he hoped she could keep up the great work.
San Jose de la Andes had exactly twenty-eight single story sun dried adobe huts, and one stone church dedicated to the saint and built sometime in the late 17th century. The stone blocks were quarried many miles to the north and dragged on hand made sleds by the devoted. The original French designed stain class windows met their deaths at the hands of the Shining Path in 1978. Their plain replacements allowed bountiful light if not Biblical delights. As the sun light began illuminating the center aisle, one head after another rose up from separate pews which had served as that night’s bedding.
Of the nineteen, only two were female and all but one of the whole was not wearing a woolen tightly fitting Andean cap. That one’s hair was almost flaxen and hung well over the owner’s shoulders.
After a few stretches, grunts and sighs, all the owners were on their feet, as they all moved toward the hatless one. When they reached him, they knelt, but with their heads erect. The object of their attentions bent over and kissed each forehead. Even kneeling, his bow was slight, indicating he was not tall. His full, spotlessly clean poncho clung to a frame which could not be deemed frail but certainly was petite. Casually leaning against a pew he raised his left hand and all heads dropped as he began a brief silent prayer. After this, he stepped barefooted into the aisle and accepted a large chunk of dark brown bread, and a half filled cup of water.
The group enjoyed a totally silent breakfast, but before this was completed, they all faced the open side doorway filled with red cheeked faces. He beckoned the crowd to approach and then he began moving toward each other. When he stopped they also halted less than a yard from him. Without a word, or signal of any kind, they knelt, even though he silently protested by lifting both hands over and over to no avail. Gently shaking his head in mild disapproval, he moved among them, once again bestowing kisses on all. Above, in the small balcony housing a non-functional pipe organ, Melba crouched at the railing, so only her upper head topped it.
After the kisses, a trio came through the open side door. Two adult males carried a figure wrapped so completely, Melba had to wait until they placed it at Bernardo’s feet and the wrap laid aside to see it was a child, perhaps in its early teens. Its attire did not reveal its sex. Then Melba noticed a man and woman trailing the trio. They also knelt with the carriers.
Bernardo went to them and kissed each. To her it seemed his feet never moved. As if he were floating or sliding across the rough uneven cobble stone floor then he bent over the woman, remained motionless for a full minute, then nodded and straightened.
“Bring her to the altar." The voice was deep, baritone deep, with a lilting softness which hung suspended, hovering over Bernardo, the invalid and her carriers. Even then it was reluctant to dissolve until its owner spoke again.
“Put her on the carpet where it is more comfortable, and I will return shortly." He stopped at the pew where he had slept the night and drew a large leather bag over a shoulder. Then he vanished behind the altar’s side door.
He was gone for perhaps ten minutes. During this period everyone drew closer to the altar and the girl. Some sat in the front rows, some stood in the center aisle and a few of the men leaned against the nearby wall.
When he reappeared he had discarded his poncho. The sleeves on his thick wool shirt were rolled above his elbows and he was carrying a small packet emitting a tin thin trail of steam. The woman and a man from his entourage joined him as he knelt beside the child and raised a poncho screen. The mother waited to one side, her attention fixed on the operation. Twice she nodded her head and between gave a shudder. Melba deduced it was cause by a slight muffled cry. His other followers bowed and several raised a hand to the ceiling.
He stood, the poncho was dropped from the child and the mother rushed to kneel by the girl. Then a man, bent almost in half, shoeless and wearing a ragged, hole pocked cape shuffled over to join her. Melba could swear the cape had been either stolen from a burro, or corpse. His attempt to kneel was accompanied by short pain filled snorts. The mother reached up and stayed his efforts. Then she took her child’s head in her lap. Instantly Melba was transfixed, elated, horrified, and humbled by how much this reminded her of both the Holy Family in the Manger Scene. An instant later she also realized how the standing trio resembled Michelangelo’s immortal Florence Pieta.
Those standing in the aisle parted as Bernardo moved down it and out the side door alone. As soon as he disappeared, everyone rushed to the trio and knelt, bowed their heads and began murmuring a prayer in their Andean dialect. Melba watched as slowly the child stirred, and after a few minutes more was able to sit erect with her mother’s help. And as all this flooded her vision, a tiny inner voice repeated over and over again, “Remember, miracles are in the eyes ofthe beholder."
Melba’s slight smile gradually became a broad one and then a beaming annunciation that her natural cynicism was breaking against her craving that what she had just witnessed was much more.So much more than.