The Final Piece
After that, things got a little better, for El, anyway. He could leave Sands's door not only unlocked, but open, so he, at least, could see in the daytime. Sands didn't have the strength of a newborn. El would have been glad to see him try to escape. The agent only lay on his pallet and moaned. El could get him to drink through a straw, but food was out of the question. His fever abated, but not entirely, so the man continued to suffer from the heat. Occasionally El put him back in the bath, both to clean him and to give him some relief. El even lit cigarettes for him, resisting the temptation to inhale, and put them in the man's mouth. He considered it a good sign when Sands lifted a shaking hand to hold the cigarette himself. El didn't think Sands was unconscious again, but he slept most of the day.
On the fourth day, a young boy came to the fort.
"Señor," he said, "the Padre needs you at his house. You have a phone call."
"A phone call?"
"Sí, Señor. It's El Presidente." The boy looked very impressed.
So El left Sands to go to the phone. He returned in a very thoughtful mood. He needed to talk to Sands.
He entered the room where the agent lay on his back, one arm across his eyes as if he needed to shield them from the light. It was a headache, El knew. Sands had found the strength to ask for aspirin.
"I just got off the phone with El Presidente," El said. "He wants to give me a medal. He's invented a new one. Calls it the Sons of Mexico medal. He wants to give it to Lorenzo, too, and maybe Fideo for the other business."
Sands said nothing, but a slight snort told El he was listening.
"I asked him about you. He said the medal can only go to Mexicans, but he might make an exception if I ask him to."
Sands made no response. El sat on the floor next to him.
"I asked him something else. I asked him how he knew where to find me. I've been thinking. Everyone who knew about my village from before was dead. Except for you."
"So?" Sands finally asked.
"He said someone called and gave him a tip. This caller wanted to collect the bounty the government used to have on me, or that's what he said. When they told him the bounty was off, this man gave my location anyway, for nothing. But you know all this, don't you?"
Sands licked his lips, but said nothing.
"Why me, Sands? Delgado didn't really need new muscle, though I'm sure that's what you told him. Many men could have helped bring down the cartel. The CIA could have helped. Why did you want me?"
Sands said nothing. Eventually, El stood to go. As he reached the door, he heard,
"I knew . . . you would do this . . . you . . . sanctimonious . . . son of a bitch."
El left the room, tired, his mind automatically chewing over the English word he didn't know. He had heard the Latin in it, but doubted very much that Sands had called him "holy." It had to be an insult, and El was weary of insults.
He stopped in mid stride as the further nuance of the English sentence - the first complete sentence Sands had said in some time - struck him. Sands, he realized with shock, had given him more than an insult: he had given him an answer.
He went to the kitchen, smiling. Somehow, he vowed, he would get Sands to accept that medal.
Thank you so much, Demented Ferret! You know what for. How'd I do?