Some time later Keith was in a police vehicle. They drove to the nearest town. Following his instructions, the soldiers took him to Hotel Quatro Gatos. A long building converted into a guest house by Mercedes Cordero, a Spaniard from Salamanca who had lived there for more than 20 years. The rooms of the only hotel in the village were dark and stuffy. With its high attics, the walls of the old house had showed the ravages of time. Signs of damp and mould were visible.
The journalist took a small room at the end of a narrow corridor next to the only bathroom in the place. After arranging payment he was warned about the zancudos, a kind of mosquito that usually attacked at night. Keith rested until the sun went down.
At the end of the afternoon he went out to look for his contact. He had been instructed to walk around the main square. At the right moment, he would be approached. He walked among the houses of the small village. He saw the misery of the country. Most of the houses were on the point of collapse. Some of them had fallen walls and others showed recent signs of bullets. On the sidewalks there were a lot of children, almost all hungry and dirty. The breeze wasn’t enough to reduce the sensation of heat and discomfort. The journalist had never seen anything like it.
In the small square traders, old people and farmers gathered for a chat at the end of the afternoon. Some of them sat by the shop doors. Others entertained themselves in a small fair at a street called Juan Tolentino. Some women and children were walking through the `gardens’ of the square, actually two rectangular flower beds with some rosebushes and some shrubs. It was dusk. The passers-by and the landscape were fading to red. The faces were becoming more expressive and the deep furrows stood out.
“Senor O’Brien…,” said a man in a low voice as he passed by.
Keith looked up. He stared at the stranger and then looked around.
“Follow me,” said the man.
From the square they walked through two sidestreets, passing through the poorest part of the village. A jumble of houses appeared. Most of them were made of wood and shects of plywood . The man walked some metres ahead, completely ignoring the journalist. Watchful eyes observed from a window the foreigner passing by. They went down a steep hill and came to the end of the village. Two bearded men appeared from one of the houses.
“Is there anybody with you?”
“I came alone.”
“Good. Can you see that garage? Go there. Push open the door and go in.”
Keith saw the empty garage at the end of the steep hill. His guide had disappeared. The two men turned round and entered a right-angled lane. The journalist went on and did exactly what he was told.
He pushed open the gate and entered the garage. It was dark. There was a switch, but the bulbs didn’t work.
Some old cars had been abandoned there. Most of them were dented, with parts missing. There were cobwebs all over. Keith walked more slowly and kept quiet. His ears were alert to any kind of noise. Nothing. He came to the centre of the garage. Some light was coming from a hole on the roof. He heard something. He looked around. The noise stopped.
“It’s me, O’Brien. Anybody there ?” said Keith.
He heard another sound. Footsteps. A moment later there was a middle-aged, heary bald man beside him. The prominent belly and the beard were very obvious, as were the open shirt and the bermuda shorts.
Light coming from the roof fell on Keith’s face. Leaning on an old and rusty Chrysler, the informer stayed in the shadow. The Englishman wasn’t happy.
“But nothing you’re telling me is new. I’d like to know something about the big offensive you’re planning.”
“How do you know, senor O’Brien?”
“It doesn’t take much to work that out. Look at the recent attacks on military barracks: what’s the motive ? the increased involvement of the United States in the region and the surface calm that we can see in the country.”
“I can tell you in advance that you’re not mistaken. The guerrilla activity is going to intensify. But unfortunately that’s all I can tell you.”
“You know that I’m not from the government. I don’t play for both sides. I’ve got journalistic principles. Come on, you must have something more interesting than this supposed installation of a provisional government in Chalatenango. Who knows anything about the attack?”
“I don’t understand.”
“How are they going to do it ? Arms supply, for instance, and the staff training. I’ve seen the men from the Army. They’ve been receiving direct support from the United States and guns of the highest quality. How can you defeat these people?”
“Senor O’Brien, it’s clear that you’re on the right track. Something is going to happen soon. There are secrets in a war.”
“Even if I promised to reveal them simultaneously with the events ?”
“Don’t take us for fools. We can’t risk an operation for that.”
“Even for a large amount of dollars?”
“You’re not suggesting that I could…”
“Absolutely. The money can be delivered to the FMLN.”
“All right, we can negotiate. But I have to say that the money will go to the organisation.”
“I never thought otherwise.”
“But I tell you, senor, that I can’t give you crucial details.”
“I understand that.”
“Well, as we’ve already talked about the attack, there’s no need to go on about that. Two hours of conversation were enough.”
“Of course. What about starting with the guns? I suppose smuggling here is not a problem.”
“You’re right. The region’s been at war for a long time. There are kilometres of virgin forests and the government can’t search all the frontiers.”
“Do you have enough arms to start the attack?”
“No. But soon we’re going to have the best.”
“Are you talking about modern weaponry ?”
“I’m talking about changes in the balance of power – and money, too.”
“Who’s providing the arms?”
“The international market.”
“And the Russians and Cubans…”
“Imperialist propaganda. We buy guns with dollars on the black market. That’s why I’m accepting your offer. How much is it? You know the score: the value of the donation relates to the willingness to speak…”
There were stars in the sky. Some dogs were barking and, in the distance, there was the clamour of children playing. Chickens were scratching at the earth. A pig darted in front of Keith. The Englishman stepped aside and continued going up the steep hill.
The conversation with the guerrilla informer had been useful. Unfortunately the information he had received, despite his insistence and the dollars, was not enough to form a definite picture of the guerrillas’ intentions. Anyway, the sacrifice had been worthwhile. He was the only journalist able to talk to someone from the guerrilla command, in Salvadorean territory , at a time when other journalists couldn’t get anything.
From the shacks slowed the pallid yellow light of kerosene lamps. One or two had something more than a lamp. In addition to the stars, the most urbanized streets of the village. Quickly, he left the meeting place.
After a cold shower and a large and spicy dinner, Keith felt better and went on to the verandah. There he watched the comings and goings of the people. The owner of the guest house sat beside him.
“Not so many foreigners come to this place. Are you here on business?”
Keith looked at her. He didn’t feel like carrying on a conversation.
“In a way, yes.”
“Do you like it here?”
“It’s a new place.”
“A lot of people have come out of the mountains. The war doesn’t leave anyone in peace.”
Keith nodded. He gazed at the street and asked where there was a telephone booth. After being told by Mrs. Cordero, he went over and put through a call to the capital.
“La Guardia? You’re at the end of the fucking world. Speak up!”
“In a cavern of a fat and snoopy Spaniard !”
“Have you talked to the men?”
“Everything’s fine, Domingos. They gave me the information I wanted and left. Am I going to suffer on that bus or are you going to pick me up?”
“Of course I’ll pick you up, Keith. I’ll be there tomorrow at lunch time, OK?”
“Antonia has been asking about you.”
“If everything’s alright, I’ll talk to her tomorrow. That’s it Domingos. Gracias.”
Keith left the booth and went over to the telephone operator.
“What do I owe you?”
“Two hundred pounds,” he heard in English from a voice that came from behind .”
He felt a gentle slap on his back.
He turned and saw Philippe.
“It’s twenty colons, senor,” said the telephone operator.
“Philippe! You are always catching me from behind!”
“Mr. O’Brien? What a surprise?”
“What are you doing here?” asked Keith, astonished.
“A pink angel brought me here. And the flirting Englishman?”
“Stop taking the piss…”
“I’m investigating. Something tells me that it’s around here… It’s my journalistic intuition. Our intuition… Tomorrow I’ll go up into the mountains.”
“You’re going to try to make direct contact with the guerrillas ?”
“Things aren’t good.”
“I know that. Today I passed by the corpse of a youth on the road, but I decided to continue. After all, what is life for without the spice of death? N‚st-ce pas, mon vieux?”
“Wait a minute,” said Keith, reaching over to pay the telephone operator.
They were silent. The woman gave him the change. Philippe spoke:
“I’ll telephone the newspaper. I’m going to say goodbye to people. Maybe things won’t be so good .”
After a sleepless night, the day finally dawned. Extremely tired, Keith wrapped himself in the sheets trying to recover the lost hours of sleep. Besides a heavy fit of sneezing, he had been plagued the whole night by the zancudos. The noise coming from the neighbours turning in their beds and moving through the corridor hadn’t helped his insomnia.
While he lay awake he tried to put together what he had heard from the informer with what Philippe said after they left the booth. Something didn’t feel right. Different hints, gaps, contradictory information. One thing was certain: The guerrillas were preparing a huge secret operation.
Philippe’s presence in the village was something disturbing. Keith knew the photographer’s reputation, but he was afraid that the Frenchman would spoil his plans.
Seven o’clock in the morning. A clear blue day. Three blocks from the empty garage, the guerrilla informer was receiving visitors. Two strong, heavily-armed men were asking him some questions:
“Is everything in order?”
The informer was in a cold sweat.
“No problem so far .”
“It’s good that there isn’t. The operation is going ahead .”
“I guarantee it.”
“I hope you haven’t given anything away. We’re tailing you.”
“I’ve done my job according to your instructions. I don’t know why you should suspect me.”
At around noon Domingos arrived at the hotel. He found Keith making some notes on the verandah. After the Salvadorean’s arrival an adolescent appeared, with a message.
“Senor O’Brien, I’m in trouble. I think they want to kill me. I want you to meet me immediately at the same place we met the first time. I’ll tell you what I know.
Keith crumpled the paper, stood up quickly and said to Domingos:
“I have a problem to solve.”
“Can I help ?” asked Domingos.
“No, no. Wait in the car.”
Keith went to his room. He fetched his things, paid the bill and left. He put his belongings in Domingo’s car and walked alone. He retraced his steps to the place of the first meeting. He stopped in front of the garage. He pushed open the gate and went in .
Close by, the informer’s house was in a mess. His wife was being held by two men. A third was holding his cigarette end close to the woman’s abdomen. The informer’s wife was half naked and covered with bruises . His two small children were watching the scene.
“We don’t have the whole day to waste. Where is your husband? Come on, don’t you feel sorry for the children? If we lose our patience things will be worse.”
The woman was quietly weeping.
“One shout and we’ll blow these kids’ brains out! Where is Enrique?
Her voice was tense.
“He went to meet a man in an empty garage in Cuesta de la Cruz.”
The men pushed her until she fell into the corner of the living-room. One of them pulled a gun with a silencer. He fired three times at the woman’s head. They left the house and went to Cuesta de la Cruz. The children started to cry.
“Enrique, it’s me,” said Keith.
His voice echoed among the abandoned cars. Nobody answered. He took forward one step. Silence. Keith moved to the centre of the garage. At the other side the informer appeared. They walked towards each other. Enrique was shaking. He was out of breath.
“I have little time, senor. The military faction suspects me. They’ll kill me. They soon discovered that I’d made forbidden contacts. They don’t understand the importance of propaganda in a war.”
“Take it easy, my friend. Let’s do things calmly.”
“No, senor O’Brien, it must be quickly. I’m not wrong. They’ll try to get rid of me. File destruction. I’m not a fool. Come on, I kept the money you gave me. And I want more. I want all the money you are carrying, because I’m going to disappear. And you, as a kind of compensation, are going to have the most important information of this war.”
“And how can I if I don’t know what’s going on?”
“I’ll tell you. Knowing that it’s for a man and his family to escape, you’re going to be generous.”
Keith nodded affirmatively.
“Well here it is . A shipment of arms is about to arrive to the north of Acajutla, almost on the border with Guatemala. They are modern guns bought in Europe by the Soviet Union. A special delivery is also coming, I don’t know if it’s a kind of rocket, chemical weapons or something else. I know that the secrecy is total. From the coast they’ll take the shipment through the forest to a farm twenty four kilometers from here. It’s an old coffee farm with empty sheds. There they’ll hand over the material to special forces. Did you get everything? Write it down.” Keith held his notebook. While the man was speaking, Keith was writing and stuttering:
“North of Acajutla, there… Chalatenango, the district? I know, the road between … before El Paraiso… They call the operation Cayman, Cayman Operation. The code distributed to the command chiefs that will take the material is the arrival of the ship Townlee, in the port of Acajutla. It’ll arrive with no special shipment… pick up a coffee shipment… it only indicates that the guns are in the farm…”
“Don’t I deserve my dollars?” the Englishman heard.
Keith continued to write. He looked up and spoke with no enthusiasm:
“Here you are,” he said giving him a handful of notes.
“Get out of here as soon as possible. Let’s go. I’ll go with you to the door,” answered Enrique.
They walked to the entrance of the shed. Enrique seemed panicky . Keith said goodbye and hurried up the steep hill . His spirit was uneasy. He was afraid of something. He came back to the square and got silently into Domingo’s car. From there the car turned round the bend and went up to the road.
Some minutes after Keith had left the place, another car went down the Cuesta de la Cruz and stopped in front of the gate of the empty garage. Three men entered. Enrique was leaning on one of the cars. Calmly he was lighting a cigarette.
“People ! Here !” he shouted.
The men approached. Two of them pointed the guns at him.
“Come on guys, what’s the matter? I did the job well. Hey…”
“You know the region very well.”
“I’ve lived for many years in a village nearby. It’s twelve kilometres from here by road.”
“My informer knows you. He’s been in contact with your brother in the guerrillas.”
“My family has people fighting for all sides. It was divided by hate. I didn’t have much contact with this brother. He is younger than me. He lived in the countryside while I went to downtown to work with Don Carlito.”
“Do you like your boss?”
“Without Don Carlito I wouldn’t be anyone. He was like a father to me. He gave me an education and helped me to be what I am. Can I know who your informer was ?”
Keith was in doubt.
“I’d rather not. I want to be able to trust you .”
“I don’t understand.”
“You don’t need to.”
They drove slowly. The picturesque Salvadorean landscape was passing. From the window, they could see the cultivated plain with its crops of coffee and cotton.
“Domingos, I want you to keep quiet about what’s going on. Don’t tell anyone you came.”
“I won’t say a word. Only Antonia knows that I’m here.”
“The guy’s days seem to be numbered. He told me something extremely important.”
Domingos was curious.
“It’s information that could lead me to big news. After this I’ll certainly retire. The informer gave me all the clues. I need a lot of help and would like to count on you. But it must be clear that you’ll have to keep it absolutely secret. Any precipitate action could disturb the flow of events. I’d hate to lose this opportunity.”
“I’ve been ready since the beginning to help you.”
“All right. I’ll explain what it’s about and what we’ll need. Arms are going to arrive and they’ll be stored in a place that I’m going to skip over for the time being. The place is waiting for the delivery; the storage and the distribution are the last thing.”
“OK. You can trust me. Just tell me what you need and I’ll get it for you.”
“We’ll need guns, courage and means of transport. I’d like you to watch the comings and goings at porto de Acajutla.”
“Are they going to unload there?”
“I’m not going to say. I only want to know when a ship by the name ofTownlee docks.”
“That won’t be difficult. About transport, shall we go by car?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“I think not. We’re going to do things ourselves. Domingos, I don’t know how I got into this, but you can clear out if you want.”
“I’m with you.”
Antonia hugged Keith tenderly and ran her fingers through his hair. The two bodies touched each other from head to toe .
“Long time no see !” she said.”It seems as if we haven’t seen each other for months! I was scared ! You’re crazy. You shouldn’t be involved in this war!”
Keith took her by the hand. They went into the room.
“I missed you too,” he said.
They kissed each other eagerly. Keith’s hands slid over Antonia’s back. After the kiss she said:
“Keith, we need to talk more about you’ve been doing. Domingos doesn’t tell me much, but I know you’re mixed up in something dangerous. I brought a newspaper cutting and a message from him. He told me part of what you had done in La Guardia.”
Keith looked at her. Antonia continued:
“Darling, I needed to know things. I can’t live with this anxiety. Have you read the newspaper cutting?”
Keith went away to read. The informer of La Guardia had been found dead. He had been brutally beaten. The authorities affirmed that it was probably an act of retaliation by the guerrillas. In the message, Domingos suggested Keith lay low for a time so as not to attract the attention of the police. If he stayed at the centre of the investigation he would lose the chance of uncovering the operation that was about to go down . Domingos signed off offering his help and justifying himself for having told Antonia the facts. She would help.
Keith closed the envelopes. He put them on the chest of drawers and moved towards Antonia again. She was by the window, looking at the tennis courts. He caught her from behind and passed his hand around her waist and turned her round. They kissed each other again. Antonia was uneasy.
“This is my idea, darling. You pay your bills without saying that you’re leaving. You fetch your stuff and leave by the stairs. They lead to the laundry. There’s a side street, where there’s the service door. I’ll distract the porter’s attention and you get in my car. Today, right after lunch. OK with you ?”
“Where are we going ?”
“Ah my love, trust me. Let’s say, I’m kidnapping you.”
“Any clues ?”
“No. You must believe in me. Can’t you see it in my eyes ? Keith, let me love you!”
Keith and Antonia met according to plan that same afternoon. From San Salvador they drove to the coast, avoiding busy roads until they reached an almost deserted region. There Antonia had her chalet.
The chalet was by the beach in a quiet and inaccessible place. To get there, you followed a sandy track past a shelter that guarded access to the private area. This was one of Antonia’s favourite places. She had designed the house and the gardens. The chalet was extremely pleasant. A small hexagonal construction with glass windows that came down to the floor, a pitched roof and protected against inquisitive eyes by a ring of tall trees.
During the day it was fresh, but it became cold during the nights when there was a breeze of the sea . Cosy, the decoration had the personal touch of the owner, providing the comfort she felt was necessary. A big room with a view of the sea, a living room with a wooden floor and pale yellow furniture and a well-equipped kitchen and bathroom.
The living room and the bedroom were separated by wooden shelves at various levels. There was a televison, a videocassette and a sophisticated stereo. The room had beautiful pictures on the walls and an impressive collection of video tapes. There wasn’t a flat roof, but there was an attic covered with pine planks.
“To use a machine gun you must pay attention to how you are going to connect and disconnect the trigger. It’s always important to check the bolt position and keep the gun disarmed . Lots of comrades die in accidents because they are not cautious.
“Comrades, we must keep up the struggle. It’s a quarter to nine. A useful piece of advice to a revolutionary: Keep the gun-sight adjusted. Most times this decides a battle. Shots fired over a long distance require a gun to be well-adjusted.
“Venceremos Radio. Spokesperson of the national emancipation movement.
“Comrades, comrades, down with the yankees!
“Long live the Revolution! Farabundo Marti! Sandino!
“One more song against the people’s enemies:
yo tenia mi casa chica
“Could you turn it off, darling?”
“Just a minute. It’s important for me.”
“Ah… I wish it would finish soon…”
Keith reached over and slowly turned the radio down till it was off. It was dark and it was a night without a moon. From a distance the noise of the sea could be heard against the cliffs. From their bed they could see the cliffs and the beach far behind. From the window they could also see the gardens with their palm trees and a glimpse of the sky.
“This place is very beautiful,” Keith said.”I’d like to stay here for a while.”
“So why don’t you ?” asked Antonia.
“I’ll have to go sooner or later.”
She was lying in bed on her side. Keith was near the window looking at the stars. He went over to the records, chose one, went back to the stereo and turned it on.
Antonia was more beautiful than ever. Her sinuous lines were apparent beneath the crumpled skirt that she had travelled in. Keith admired this woman’s freedom who, according to her, used to stay here alone, contemplating the sea. As if he had butterflies inside him, he walked uneasily around the house trying to analyze the situation. “Honey, come here,” she said.
He came closer. His heart was beating faster. He felt that desire. Keith stretched his body out on the bed, put his arms around her and they started to kiss each other. The first caresses multiplied and intensified like never before.
They made love.
Keith awoke with the warmth of Antonia lying beside him. They were naked. Keith held her again . Antonia made a movement and got closer to him. Keith smelt the hours that had passed. It was a mixture of kinds of perfume and a strong scent of bodies. Antonia was breathing slowly. He held her tight, turned and kissed her on the face. Antonia opened her eyes. Then she closed them and uncoiled herself lazily.
“Good morning,” he said.
Antonia stretched and sat up in bed. She gazed at him. She pulled away the sheet that was covering them and threw it aside, revealing their naked bodies. Keith felt a little shy. She looked at him. She moved to and held him tight.
With Antonia lying over him, Keith’s hands wandered over her back, going up and down in circular movements from the nape till the buttocks and loins. His chest felt the friction and pressure of her breasts, while his penis glided smoothly between her thighs. The two bodies were writhing in bed like snakes.
Antonia quivered at every touch. She held her body against his, kissing the nape of his neck. She leaned on one arm and with the other reached for Keith’s penis. She squeezed it gently as it entered her.
Hugging each other under the shower, they were talking.
“After this you’re going to be back to bed, darling. I’ll prepare an English breakfast with bacon and eggs.”
“There’s no need. I can help you.”
“No, I’ll do it.”
“I can’t believe in what I’m hearing. You in the kitchen ?” he teased.”A businesswoman? A free and feminist woman?!”
“Cut it out, OK ?” she answered.
They ran the soap over other’s body.
1989 – Copyright of the Portuguese version by
Alvaro Andrade Garcia
Chapter 56 (click to continue)