The Red Butterfly, Part Seventeen – There Was Nothing
There was a loud bang and a sudden blast of cold air. I looked towards the source of the noise. The door to Candela was flung open and on the threshold stood the red haired soldier, his face streaked with blood from a laceration above his eye. The front of his shirt was torn and stained crimson. Behind him were his mates, they swayed in the cold air; steam rose from their bodies like a heavy fog, their faces, in shadow.
“What the hell?” said the soldier, as he surveyed the room, “what the hell is this?” The music had stopped; we stood still and silent like stone effigies.
“What the fuck,” repeated the soldier. He spotted Carlos sitting in the corner and lifted his hand and pointed a finger at him. “You!” he said.
“You are not welcomed here,” said Agustín.
The soldier ignored Agustín and took a step forward. “You son of a bitch,” he said.
I felt Anna tense next to me. Carlos smiled and said nothing.
“Listen caballero, you are not welcomed here, this is a private place,” said Agustín. The soldier turned and looked at Agustín who was standing behind the bar with both hands flat on the zinc counter.
“We just want a drink,” said the soldier, “that’s all we wanted. He sent us the wrong way.”
Carlos laughed, “there is a river just south from here, if you are thirsty, I can tell you where it is.”
“Callate Carlos,” said Pablo.
Agustín said to the soldier, “There must have been a mistake, maybe you misunderstand. These things happen. But you cannot stay here, this is a sacred place.”
“Misunderstand?” repeated the soldier, as if the word was something sour that he could not abide. The men behind him were still on the street, swaying like shadowy apparitions. “Oh I don’t think so, I don’t think I misunderstood. anything.” He brought his left hand up for everyone to see; it was chewed up, mangled, something had had a go at it. The skin was shredded, bits of tendon and bone visible underneath. Blood dripped in small torrents from the gashes. “The dogs,” he said, “those fucking dogs.”
“You need to have a doctor look at that,” I said, as I stepped forward. The rest of the soldiers were inching inside, Candela was overcrowded, hot, like the inside of an engine room. There were too many people and there was no way out except past the soldiers. “You should go back to the base and get that checked out.”
“A doctor?” said the red haired soldier. “What the fuck is a doctor going to do with this?” he yelled as he waved his ruined hand, blood sprayed across my face. “What am I going to say, that a dog chewed on my hand while I was AWOL? I’m not even supposed to be off the base right now!”
“Look, I don’t know what your situation is,” I continued, “But you really have to see a doctor, you might lose that hand.”
“Lose my hand, you give a shit now? You let that son of a bitch send us the wrong way, into a trap. You’re an American. You let him send us the into a trap, and you’re with them.”
“It’s a confusing place, all the streets wind around,” said Agustín.
“I fucking hate this place, I hate this shitty country,” said the soldier, “I don’t want to be here. This asshole gets us lost and we get attacked and you just stand there and do nothing!” His face was just inches from my own. There was no way out of this. All of the soldiers had crowded into Candela; there was barely any space. Agustín was still behind the bar, but his hands had moved underneath the countertop. I looked behind me, Agujetas was gone, in his place, an empty chair, he had disappeared unnoticed.
“What are you looking at? I’m talking to you.” I looked into his demented eyes and said nothing. What could I say? He was beyond reason.
With a sudden burst of quickness, the soldier shoved me aside and expertly parried Carlos’s slashing lunge. Carlos had moved from the chair and had snuck behind me unseen. He held a switchblade in his hand and a look of surprise on his face. He did not expect the soldier to evade him with such dexterity. Before he had another opportunity to attack, the men were upon him like a pack of wolves and he disappeared underneath their feet.
“No! No, joder, no!” Yelled Pablo as he moved towards the melee. The soldiers were kicking at Carlos’s prone body. Before Pablo could get to his nephew, the red haired soldier seized him with his good hand and spun him to the grown. The old man lost his balance and fell and smashed his head on the edge of the bar with a sickening crack.
“Pablo!” yelled Anna as she ran to his slumped body. There was a sudden surge from behind as our grouped, mobilized, pitched me forward and into the arms of the red haired soldier, We struggled with our balance and fell in a heap to the ground.
We wrestled, and I managed to get on top. I held the soldier down by the arms like a child as he struggled to get up. I looked for Anna. I called for her, but couldn’t see her; the fall had disorientated me. I got off the soldier and stayed low as he crawled away. I looked for the bar and for Pablo and for Anna but could not find them among the tangle of legs. I looked for Carlos on the ground where he had fallen but could not see him either. I tried to stand. I felt a hard blow to the back of my head.
I opened my eyes; dirt, ground, feet. Candela had a dirt floor? Why hadn’t I noticed that before? Wait, that ‘s not possible; my face on cold tile, bloody drool dripped from my mouth, a sound like a side of beef struck by a baseball bat, a hard thudding pain in my ribs, I had blacked out momentarily and now I was on the ground and men were kicking me. But who were these men? The Soldiers? “Stop,” I moaned, and then, “Anna?”
The blows ceased. I manage to get to my hands and knees. I hear a sound similar to the sound that a hardball makes when thrown with significant force into an old leather glove, I lose my breath and tip over and feel as if I might vomit. Sharp tipped black books move quickly out of my blurred vision. A strong hand wrenches my head back by my hair and a sudden, excruciating pain in my back and I see Carlos’s, face.
“I told you Guiri, you said you were not scared. And now?” he hissed, “no tienes miedo ahora?” He held up the switch blade which was dripping with blood, my blood. He shoved my head forward, and then, there was nothing.