One afternoon, Ofelia received a letter that said only, “Shut up or we will rape and kill you.” The letter had arrived with a photograph of Ofelia and her mother walking in the Plaza de Armas in Durango. From her mother's scowl, Ofelia guessed the photo had been taken the morning they'd argued about nougat and blood sugar on their way to the chocolatier's; her mother was an obstreperous diabetic who insisted that the disease harmed you only if you believed it would harm you. In the snapshot, her mother gripped her jacket to her narrow throat as if pushing through a strong wind, while Ofelia lasered forward.
These days, her mother was the only one in her family that Ofelia saw or spoke with. Her brothers and sisters had been corrupted the same way anyone went corrupt, from the dark mix of need and opportunity. In their case, the opportunities flowed from Ana, Ofelia's younger sister, a deputy in the federal congress. Only Ofelia refused Ana's offers of aid (jobs, concert tickets, loans of unclear origin), and she couldn't go into any of her family's houses anymore, because the corruption of their couches soiled her, and their food clotted her mouth. Her brothers and sisters were in Ana's thrall, and when they gathered Ana sat thick with pride, expecting to be toasted. At their brother's own birthday celebration, he raised his glass of whiskey and said, “If it weren't for Ana, I'd be on the street.” True, but he should have found another way.
“Shut up or we will rape and kill you.”
Ofelia thought: Come and get me. Then she called Carlos, her boyfriend of two years, and said, “It's time.” The fifth credible death threat: that had been the agreement he'd plied from her.
But it wasn't fair to characterize the agreement that way. She’d given it freely, once she realized that Carlos’ fear meant more to her than did her own.
Forty minutes later, he pulled up in front of her house, with his son, Javier—Javi—in the back seat. They drove twelve kilometers to the Western Dreams Lodge, one of the nearby locations where Hollywood studios had filmed their classics in the 1950's and 60's, and which the family of Ofelia's closest friend, Fernando, had converted to a now-failed resort; Fernando was preserving the lodge as a refuge for her, using the remains of his family’s money.
At the resort’s back entrance, armed guards opened the gate and let Ofelia and her companions past the electric and barbed-wire fencing. The road wound around a full-scale Wild West town and then along the inner, unpainted side of one row of western facades, a show of carpentry planted amid rough grasses and rock. Continuing on the drive, they reached the main house, a white Victorian replica that, in a movie, would have been the lair of the town villain—a railroad baron, say, who ousted hardworking families from their homesteads.
Fernando led the arrivals to their rooms on the second floor. Ofelia had known him since their school days, when they'd been the two most diligent students in the first year of prepa. Even then, Fernando moved with bird-dog precision, sniffing out invisible details. He knew, for example, that their teacher was in love with the rector; the next year, the teacher wasn't back. Ofelia envied his skill.
“Pretend you're here for filming,” he said to Ofelia. “Maybe I'll grab you some costumes left over from the sets.”
“I'm still finishing the book,” she said.
“My love, none of us would dream of getting in your way.” Fernando took her across the hall, to the office he'd laid out for her. “Look: desk, cabinets, computer free of internet connection. Chair. What more do you want?”
“Not a thing,” she said.
Carlos waved a long, undisciplined arm toward the window. “Some blinds? That’s what I want.” On the other side of the glass, the lodge's perimeter floodlights flickered, projecting the scattered nopal cacti into long, ghostly shapes. Beyond them, mezquites pressed against the rise of jagged hills.
“Yes, please,” Ofelia said. “And I'd also like a key to this room.”
She wanted no one, not even Carlos—especially not him—to have access to her notes. This was for his own protection: until her book came out, he should be ignorant of the specifics, meaning the mechanisms by which the politically-connected Laguna Cartel—the favorite of the president, she believed—had spread across northern Mexico, drawing electeds and business owners into its web. Ofelia didn't think about anything but her research anymore. She was a reporter, and her job was to piece together the truth.
That night, she unpacked her bag beneath Carlos' solemn gaze. The more neatly she folded her clothing, the grimmer his expression. “Remember,” he said. “I'll give you three weeks here. Then we leave the country.”
It amazed her that he thought she would go.
One week later, Ofelia lay in her bed, taking a fitful afternoon nap. She rolled onto her back, and Javi was standing at the foot of her bed, looming.
The boy had come to the lodge with them because he’d been expelled from school for sneaking into the girls' bathroom and for other assorted violations: cheating on tests, setting off homemade rockets, unexplained absences, general inscrutability. He was only twelve, but his mother didn’t want him at home. He'd made her unlove him, and he unsettled Ofelia. She blinked up at his face, which was rough with acne, pitted like the moon. As he shamelessly stared, she went dumb and stared back.
“Fernando told me to come get you,” he said finally. He balled his hands together, as if squeezing the words up to his mouth and into being. “He said he needs you downstairs.”
She went to the office, where Fernando held the black telephone receiver tight to his chest. Ofelia took it from him.
“They killed Ilda last night.” It was her editor at Progreso calling from Mexico City. “They found her outside Veracruz. She was coming back from her niece’s birthday party.”
“How awful,” Ofelia said, but she wasn’t surprised. “Any idea of who?”
“Who? Take your pick,” her editor replied. “Listen, if you want to leave for a while, no one will think any less of you.”
With even her editor telling her to quit, it was easy to believe everyone was against her. Fine. Better to know what you're dealing with.
“I'd think less of me,” she said. “Please tell Ilda’s family I’m very sorry.”
Later that night, Ofelia, Carlos, and Javi—the only guests at the lodge—joined Fernando to watch The Wild Bunch, which had been filmed in the state. Ofelia had seen it many times. It told the story of a group of outlaws from the United States drawn into the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution, as if things had ever worked that way. The movie portrayed all the stock characters Ofelia knew to expect—the beatific villagers, the brutal and inept general, the virginal girlfriend converted into a whore—but tonight she hoped to find solace in the mean simplicity of its morality tale.
The movie began: a group of children gathered around a mass of ants devouring a scorpion. They giggled joyously, poking the scorpion with a stick. Ofelia glanced at Javi. He, too, was laughing and rocking, revealing his small, sharp teeth, and his face shimmered green from the screen's glow. In truth, Ofelia wished Carlos didn't have a son, especially this one, an odd and irreparable burden.
She leaned her head on Carlos’ shoulder and let him stroke her hair. Although he was not at all stern, at first glance he looked almost like a Prussian general, which seemed to surprise even him, so that when spoken to he collapsed into fluttering gestures. While sitting, he often tucked his hands between his knees, and Ofelia enjoyed untucking them and rolling them between her own. He had lovely, heavy hands. Holding them made her feel connected to life.
Two years earlier he'd been a stranger, and now he'd left an auto parts business behind in Durango for her. Ofelia loved to visit him in his shop, though she didn't care a bit about cars. She liked who he was. Several times she'd seen him talk customers out of buying parts they didn't need; he chose honesty though it wasn't required, and it was he, not the lodge, who was her refuge, but he didn’t see that because his kindness was too natural.
On the television screen, the Wild Bunch was arguing about what to do. They'd stolen bags of gold, and when they opened the bags, they saw that they'd stolen only washers. Javi laughed long, hoarse laughs at their discovery.
Ofelia had grown up on the edge of Durango, where the streets awaited paving and the houses were beyond the reach of phone service. At the end of their street, the city ended in two fields. To the left, the city's waste gurgled into a plain of black waters. To the right was an expanse of hardened earth where Ofelia, Ana, and other children—all boys—played soccer. In the center of the field stood a crumbling building that the children believed had once been a governor's mansion. During the Revolution, it had been occupied by the army of Francisco Villa, they imagined, and many people had died there. They didn't dare go inside. Once, Ofelia had gotten close enough to see that the house still had bars covering glassless windows, and as she took one step closer her foot landed in softness. She looked down. It was a cat, slick in death.
Late one afternoon, as the last bit of light seeped across the sky, Ofelia kicked the ball in the direction of the house, and a boy ran after it. The ball obeyed the house's gravitational pull, and he followed. Ofelia went, and Ana, too, followed by the other children. The boy reached the house. He stopped at the window and stood, blinked, sharpened his focus, let his mouth open. He stumbled backward and ran back to the cluster of children, dumb with amazement and fear.
“Do you see it?” he asked. He pointed at the dark window frame, squinted his eyes in confusion and disappointment. “Did you see it?”
He said he'd seen a demon come out of the blackness. The demon looked like a normal man in a buttoned white shirt and dark pants, but his pants stopped at the knee, and for calves and feet he had the hooves and furred legs of a goat. The demon had reached out to the boy through the bars.
Ofelia said, “You're making that up. You didn't see a demon.” And, because Ofelia had said this, Ana repeated, “You didn't see it. You're lying.”
“I did so see it! Go look for yourself.”
Ana said, “You didn’t,” but with less confidence.
“Go look! I dare you.”
Ofelia saw that Ana was trembling but couldn't refuse. Ana turned toward the house, its contours murky in the dark. She took a step and continued moving forward. She reached the door and slowly pushed. She has small wrists, Ofelia thought, but she can push harder. Ana slipped inside.
The boy ran to the door and pulled it shut. Ofelia raced behind him and curled her fingers around the handle, above the boy's, and pulled as hard as he was pulling. Ana's fists pattered on the other side, and Ofelia pulled harder, so hard she could feel the strain across her chest. A thrilling charge gave her the strength. Once the pattering went quiet, Ofelia and the boy ran back to their houses, dodging rocks and nopales, racing to safety. Ofelia looked inside the house; her mother was washing a pot. Ofelia didn't enter. She went to the corner and sat and waited in the dark. Nothing moved. Why didn't Ana come back?
A shadow emerged from the field, walking slowly, kicking at bits of gravel. Ana slowly took shape but didn’t look at Ofelia.
Why had Ofelia done it? She didn't know. She felt a sickening sense of guilt. Ana passed her, still nearly a shadow, and went into the house. Shame sloshed through Ofelia, but then another sensation snaked out, and she didn't know what that sensation was.
Now, as a reporter, she saw real horrors. She drove all over Durango, cultivating sources, following police trucks as they raced across the city, guns mounted on frames in their cargo beds. All this felt new and sudden. The federal government had unleashed the army and turned the fight for territory into a military conflict. The police had found a mass grave on Mother Teresa Street, and they were digging out scores of bodies, but in their desiccation the corpses had lost the ability to startle. What startled Ofelia were the freshly butchered bodies with limbs separated from torso as if in preparation for market, red flesh made meat. One night she saw the police shine their light on a man's head, peeled of its skin. It reminded her of nothing more than the sheep's head placed atop the pile of meat in a pot of barbacoa. The strips of muscle extended along the planes of skull. The tongue bunched out, hard and desperate. Milky eyeballs bulged in search of their shutters of skin.
Ofelia separated herself from the bodies by taking photographs of them and the messages left behind. The messages recorded the offenses committed by the dead, but the bodies were their own accusation. To look at them was to accuse. Not because all those killed were narcos—which wasn't true, even if people insisted it was—but because one had to blame the victims for the baseness of their deaths, since no one wants to believe their humanity is so fragile. When this happens to me, Ofelia thought, they’ll say I brought it on myself.
Ofelia thought of truth as a yet-to-be assembled grenade. She'd assemble it and pull the pin, and in the explosion the guilty would be held to account. She hoped to have that power.
At the lodge, her office overlooked a series of small guesthouses, some concrete and brightly painted, others built of wood in the style of modest Wild West Victorians. The guesthouses surrounded a patio, with a small pool filled with blue water.
Carlos sunned himself on a long patio chair, reading home improvement books with illustrations and photographs. He wore too-snug swim trunks, and Ofelia took these as a costume of leisure rather than its true expression. Carlos wasn't naturally still, and she knew his reading was a subterfuge. His eyes went from the explanations in the book to the horizon, from the photographs to the horizon. Ofelia watched him watching and allowed him his theatrics of protection; he deserved to feel that he could give her safety.
She saw him stand and walk to the pool. He leaned forward. Javi was splashing. They were exchanging some words.
On her desk, she had a file of interview notes. One source she'd cultivated was an accountant who handled money for the Laguna Cartel, which had begun moving into the state from Coahuila a couple of years earlier, in 2008. The accountant was just a twenty-seven-year-old girl with narrow hips. On a slip of paper, now in Ofelia's file, the accountant had written a list of names. At the top was Senator Eliseo Machado, and in the middle of the list, innocently written, was Ana Campos.
Seeing Ana’s name on the list had made Ofelia feel as if her insides had been hollowed out.
“I already know Machado is one of the wealthiest traffickers in Durango,” Ofelia had told the accountant. “I need documents showing the flow of money. I can't accuse people without evidence.”
The truth had to be papered together with care. A story that approximated the truth but wasn't the truth was as bad as collaboration: whose interests did it serve?
Ofelia collected interview transcripts, business documents, copies of deeds, receipts. All these papers she now kept in her office at the Western Dreams Lodge, locked in the desk. On the walls she had photos of the traffickers, the dead, businessmen, politicians from all levels of government, military officers, local and federal police. In the corner of this collage, she'd taped a photograph of Ana, who wasn’t important but was her sister.
One would immediately see the family relationship. Ana wore her hair much longer, but the cut didn't obscure the steep drop of her cheekbones into the rock of her bowed lips. Ofelia had these cheekbones and lips, too, and years ago the sisters had learned to apply blush and gloss to them. They'd crowded into the bathroom, pressed their faces together in the green-rimmed hand mirror that hung from a nail, and dabbed. Since then, Ofelia had forgotten about makeup, while Ana paid more elaborate attention because of the scatter-shot scars along her chin. Ofelia remembered the day of the scars. Ana had been running from a feral dog and tripped over a block of concrete, and Ofelia raced behind, beating the dog away with a stick. In that moment, she hated the dog more than any other being, and then once the dog whimpered away she felt terrible for hurting it. Ana held her chin, studded with cuts. “Come,” Ofelia said, and cleaned her sister's chin with her shirt sleeve.
In the photograph taped on Ofelia's wall, a posed shot, Ana’s face glittered like a slice of silt. She was smiling, and it looked like a happy smile with nothing beneath it.
These days at the lodge, Ofelia wandered through the old movie sets whenever her mind was troubled to enjoy their eerie quiet. Now, she needed a moment away from her notes. She secured the office and went outside. Normally, one walked to the sets along a path that began next to the pool house. But she didn't want Carlos and Javi to see that she'd left the main office. Carlos would insist on coming with her, and then there was the matter of Javi. As she walked behind the guesthouses, she saw him hanging at the edge of the pool, hidden as always behind his blank expression.
She continued along the artfully unpaved road and reached the first row of facades. Above their doorways swung signs: saloon, general store, bank, horseshoeing shop. The doors— which were operable—opened right back up into the outdoors, providing passageway from nowhere to nowhere. She continued past the facades to the lodge's more elaborate set, which included complete model barns, saloons, a hotel, homesteads, a railroad depot, all furnished with period props.
“Don't go down there alone,” Carlos had told her. She came alone every couple of days.
A tongue of warm wind followed her as she walked. Clouds were beginning to lumber across the sky. She reached the set and stepped onto its splintering wooden walkway. At the saloon, she pushed open the swinging doors, to which the careful set designers had added bullet holes. Next to a smudged mirror, old-timey bottles occupied a shelf. Ofelia went behind the bar and retrieved a new, but opened, bottle of rum and a can of Coca-Cola. She filled a glass until the liquid domed at the top. She leaned and sipped.
She heard a scrambling and went to the swinging doors. Nothing.
She sat at the card table. Across the room, she saw a translucent scorpion scuttle over the floorboards. She looked down at the floor, shifted her feet.
It was one thing to say your sister helped her family secure jobs—Ana would be stingy not to—but it was another to say she'd received money from drug traffickers. Ofelia believed the accountant, though, whom she’d approached at a newsstand and invited to talk in one of the empty chambers in the cathedral. “I never wanted to work for narcos,” the accountant had explained. “They said they'd kill me if I didn't.” This was entirely plausible.
Alone at the saloon card table, Ofelia felt eyes on her.
In the month before leaving Durango, she'd received threats at least once a week. Once, she'd picked up the phone to a man who asked her whether she'd enjoyed her breakfast upstairs at Sanborn's, and why hadn't she bought the pair of shoes she'd been admiring in the Wal-Mart?
Through the saloon's artfully greased window, she saw a pair of eyes. Had she seen them?
She rose, went to the swinging doors. She turned. Then she heard footsteps on the walkway and turned again. There was a clattering in the next room, the faux general store. For a moment, she waited and tried to clear her mind of thought. She opened the swinging door, knelt below window level, and inched toward the store. She directed her eyes into the window. It was too dark; she saw nothing. She let herself fall against the wall, beneath the black glass of the window. Above the hills, the sky was rolling with clouds.
This time of year it was like this every afternoon, oven turned into cauldron. In Durango, when the rain crashed down, everyone raced through the flooding streets. Cars went amphibian. She'd met Carlos after ducking into the ice cream parlor on an afternoon like this. They waited it out together over iced coffees with scoops of vanilla, fogging the windows. She felt a stab of affection for this stranger; he seemed innocent.
It occurred to her that she'd left her rum and Coke in the saloon, and she wished she had it now but didn't see how she'd stand up to get it. Her metabolism focused on the tasks of breathing and blinking.
And then she saw the tip of it, of the gun that would be coming for her. She saw it, and it saw her. The black eye of the barrel took her in. She waited.
It was Javi standing next to her, holding a pistol, which, when Ofelia closed and reopened her eyes, became a long-discarded prop gun. The remains of the movies were scattered all over the set. Javi smiled and revealed his underdeveloped teeth, crooked his arm, turned and considered the gun he now held sideways.
“Look what I found in the store,” he said. He gave the prop his full, vivid attention and then hopped off the walkway. Ofelia watched him run back to the main house, making himself small and ever smaller as the toast-colored earth expanded behind him.
She gathered her breaths until they ran together in a steady stream. As she walked back, she thought: no, the end wouldn't come like that, with a gentle view of the barrel. Either she wouldn't see it, the bullets would swarm her, or the torments would come slowly and she'd be dismantled bit by bit.
Gun-metal clouds turned the great purse of sky inside out, shaking pellets of rain to the ground. Ofelia was back in the main house, upstairs in the bedroom, where Carlos was changing into long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. There wasn't a single hair on his thin chest. How had his body produced that odd boy?
“Your son is a danger,” Ofelia said. The rain rattled the window.
“I told him to go directly into the house to shower. I told him he's never allowed to go down to the sets alone.”
“Your words go into his head, and he thinks about how to do the opposite.” Ofelia watched as Carlos considered this statement and worked up a measure of indignation.
“So, you know how his mind works?” he said.
She took a moment to think. Yes, she did know. A pathway opened for her into the boy's mind, and she saw its mechanics and the thin line between the discomfort he caused and his own pleasure. “He enjoys hurting people,” she said.
Carlos held a pair of nail clippers but seemed to have no intention of using them. “All boys are like that,” he said. “They don't understand. What he did today—he was just playing.”
“Of course, it's play,” she said. “That's the point.” She remembered Javi's expression as he held the prop gun: clear, steady, gleeful. At least she could respect his malevolent joy. Maybe it was better than studied innocence. “Please just make sure he stays out of my way,” she said. “I need to feel safe.”
Carlos swallowed, assembling his words. “I told you we need to leave.”
“You said three weeks.”
“But you're afraid.”
“I didn't say that.” What had she said? She tried to remember. “There's a difference between feeling unsafe and being afraid.”
“I'm afraid.” His eyes went tense with a membrane of tears. “We can save ourselves. We're worth more than this.”
Were they worth more? Ofelia pushed Carlos back on the bed and let him embrace her with still, heavy arms.
They spent the next few days swimming, watching movies, playing board games, reading. Javi continued lurking, but Ofelia didn't let him unsettle her. Mainly, she worked. She compiled follow-up questions and had Fernando drive her to a spot, closer to Durango, where there was cell reception and she could call her sources on one of her burner phones. But she couldn't reach the accountant, who didn’t answer. This was bad. Either the accountant had changed her mind, or she'd been silenced.
Back at the lodge, Ofelia began coding her interviews for each narco, politician, and businessman mentioned in her notes and transferring each reference into a table with cross-notations. Sometimes the information matched, and sometimes it didn't. One source said the head of the Anti-kidnapping Unit in Gómez Palacio was still allied with the Laguna Cartel, but another said, no, he'd switched to the Zetas. Many of those named had disappeared, but it didn't surprise Ofelia that the story changed faster than she could write it down.
She had a table for her sister, almost blank. One line said, “Accountant B.Z.: One hundred thousand pesos, from Rogelio Hernández, attorney for Adolfo Montes of Laguna cartel, b/w Oct. & Dec. 2009.” She opened her table for Rogelio Hernández and added a cross-notation. She was making headway. Bit by bit, the truth was coming together.
There was a knock on her door. It was Javi, his face tipped toward the floor, anxiously shimmering. It occurred now to Ofelia that he couldn't help but look guilty because he knew his own thoughts. That was the reason for his strange bearing. His thoughts touched right against his surface, and he felt them there. Poor boy. He hadn't learned yet that the thoughts that he didn't push into action didn't count, although someday he'd need them.
“What is it, Javi?”
He slid his foot over the floor, toying with an invisible pebble. “Fernando told me to get you.”
Ofelia thanked him. “Look, Javi, don't worry. Everything's going to be fine.” He nodded to his toes. “And don't feel bad about what happened the other day. You didn't mean to scare me.” Did it matter that this wasn't true? “Even if you did,” she said, “that's not a bad thing.”
She followed the boy downstairs. At the lodge's office, Fernando told her she had a visitor.
“Ana? How does she know I'm here?”
Fernando gave her a sharp look. “My question for you. She's stopped at the gate. Should they let her in? You decide and explain to me later.”
Should they? Ofelia told Fernando they should, and she stayed in the office while he stood at the main door. She'd speak to Ana now as she would to any other public official, no concession to paternalistic ritual. The last time Ofelia had seen her sister, Ana was holding court in an outdoor café where she sipped a Coke and passersby paid obeisance in the form of inquiries about her health. No one with any power ever heard the truth. All they got was bowing and flattery.
Fernando seated Ana at a table in the dining room. He asked Ofelia if she wanted a glass of water, coffee, whiskey, anything before going in. She shook her head no. Through the dining-room door's small glass window, she saw her sister at the table, arranging her posture. Ofelia hadn't realized that Ana still needed to build to this pose.
Ofelia wouldn't negotiate with her. If she found evidence against her sister, she'd use it.
She went to the table. The sisters considered each other. Ofelia saw that Ana had a new rake of lines at her eyes and a deepening of the furrow in her brow. She needed to be as vigilant and mistrustful as Ofelia did. More, maybe.
“I have an offer for you,” Ana announced with a cultivated weightiness. “I’ve arranged a plane that can fly you all out right now. I can get you to Brownsville, McAllen, even San Antonio. We'll go to the airport in my car.”
Even before Ana finished speaking, Ofelia was shaking her head. This was absurd. How could Ana think she'd take the offer as anything but a silencing? When had this woman been her sister?
Ofelia said, “I'll report on you if you're dirty. Period.”
Ana took a moment, rolled her words in her mouth before speaking them. “I can't protect you anymore. They're going to come for you.”
They're going to come for you. Ofelia couldn't accept the vagueness of this language. The narcos weren't a fog. They were people, individuals who made choices. Each human thing that happened came as the result of a choice.
“Who is coming?” Ofelia asked. She wanted details, but along with them she wanted Ana to know that the information ruined her—ruined Ana, not Ofelia. Ana couldn't know what she knew and still be good. “Who, exactly?”
“Please,” said Ana. “Don't fool yourself with this fencing or with those guards. I don't want you to be dead.”
Ofelia thought that probably Ana didn't want her to be dead, but she also saw that their minds ran on different tracks. How did Ana's run? Ofelia was still trying to comprehend. With all her investigations into traffickers and politicians, she didn't understand them. How could everything be explained by simple greed or love of power? She couldn't grasp the mind that had those desires. But at least that mind should know itself, and for that reason she'd never let Ana save her. Ana couldn't be a corrupted politician and a savior at the same time. She had to choose.
“Who?” Ofelia asked. “Who that you know is coming for me?”
Ana stood. She was wearing a sweater made of squares of stitched-together fabric, and the seams of the squares ran along the joints where her arms met her shoulders. Now Ofelia saw Ana cut along these lines. Ana was laid out in pieces, her head placed a few inches from severed neck, as if connected by a span of imagined vertebrae.
“You're in more danger than I am,” Ofelia said. “They're going to cut you to pieces.”
But when she pictured this, she was the one raising the machete. She didn't wish to bring the machete down but to have its power. Why didn't she have that power? What separated her from it?
Nothing. She did have it. She had the stealth of her thoughts and her reason.
A few days earlier, she'd been compiling notes on her sister, assembling the evidence that would connect Ana to the lawyer for the Laguna Cartel, and from there to the head of that cartel. Ana had sat down in a meeting with those men. She must have. This meeting didn't make her different from any of the others Ofelia was writing about; it made her the same.
“How do I know you'd take me to the airport?” Ofelia asked. “What if you're taking me to where they're going to kill me?” Ofelia considered Ana's prideful, mocking expression and felt herself being pulled into the funnel of her sister's calculations. Was Ana really luring her to her death? What was she after?
Finally, Ana said, “I came because your boyfriend called me. He begged me to save you.”
No wonder she looked so proud. Had Carlos really begged, though? It didn't matter. Ana felt needed, and this was how she won. Fine. Let her feel needed. But Ofelia was purging herself of all of it. She wouldn't need a thing from a single soul.
She left Ana in the dining room and found Carlos upstairs, sitting at the foot of the bed. He had his eyes open to the white wall; he didn't know how to be anyone but who he was. Ofelia admired his tender face. She felt so much affection for him and wished love were possible. She remembered his face next to the fogged-up window the night they'd met, his open expression matching the soft workings of his mind. His dog had just been killed by a car; he sipped his iced coffee and nearly broke into tears. When he learned about her reporting, he revealed to her how he’d ducked a pair of narcos when they came into his store. He saw and recognized them before they saw him, and he slipped into the back. He didn't care if they stole from him while he hid, as long as he wasn't forced to launder their money.
Maybe he would launder their money. That's what people did when they ran and then the running stopped working. It wasn't his fault.
“Ana can take you and Javi,” she said and slid her fingers into his loose hand. She saw he'd already packed his suitcase and Javi's and had set them next to the stairway.
Just twelve kilometers away was the city where they should have lived together. Ofelia owned a colonial house with an airy interior patio, not more than seven blocks from the chocolatier that sold European truffles wrapped in shiny foil. When she was a child, she'd dreamed of buying some of those chocolates. She and Ana stood at the window and watched the shop girl weigh them on the scale, then place them in a clean white box, which she tied up with string. Now, Ofelia wanted to go there with Carlos and let him buy her a dozen or so. She almost said, “Let's go back home to Durango.”
But Carlos and Javi were going elsewhere. She said goodbye to them at the top of the stairs and didn't embrace Carlos for too long, there being no point. After the front door closed, she went to her desk and looked out. The sun was behind the nopales, giving them a last burn of light. Fernando called up to her, “Ofelia! Ofelia!” She didn't answer. If she leaned to the right, she could see the road twisting along the hill. Ana's car labored up that hill now, moving away from Ofelia. Anything coming for her would come on that road, too. It was the only route in and out of the lodge. She'd keep her eye on it. She'd stay into the night and watch for a pair of high beams poking bright holes through the black.
Julie Chinitz has worked in public policy and community organizing since 2000. Her writing appears in American Literary Review, Bat City Review, Crazyhorse, ColorLines, and elsewhere, and was noted in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2011.