Read The Penalty Online

Authors: Mal Peet

The Penalty (15 page)

“Perhaps you need more time,” Don Felipe said. “To think about what you might do.”

Oxufa was fussily refolding his cloths, mumbling and shaking his head. The seashells at the ends of his braids clattered.

“No, Señor, I do not need time. I will stay.”

“We are very glad, Paracleto,” Doña Celestina said. “You are a good and faithful servant.”

Oxufa gathered up his bundles. He slapped me on the back and left the room, chuckling. I heard him whistling as he walked down the hall. As soon as I could, I set off after him. I thought I glimpsed him shouldering his way through the mourners in the salon; but by the time I’d reached the far door he was gone.

Six: The Tethered Goat

F
AUSTINO PACED THE
jetty at Dead Man’s Landing. When Juan loomed in front of him he said, “Want to tell me what’s going on? Where’s Bakula?”

“Edson got some business in the graveyard. It don’ take long. When he get back we move out.”

From the end of the jetty a path led into the cemetery through a gap in an overgrown line of railings. Just beyond that gap, a tall wooden cross stood at a slightly wrong angle, its ancient wood silvery where the moonlight struck. It had once been white; small obstinate flakes of paint still clung to it. Something on a chain or long necklace had been looped over its arms. Faustino saw a dark shape pass in front of the cross; Bakula had returned.

Faustino was not fond of wandering through graveyards at night. He was inclined to believe that people who were fond of it had something wrong with them. The fact that he was being escorted by three very big men carrying guns might have made him less nervous rather than more; but somehow it did not. He was foolishly relieved when the low mounds and vine-choked tombs dissolved into undergrowth and then taller trees. He found himself on a track between two great walls of darkness. It was fairly wide; a brave or reckless driver could have taken a jeep along it. Its surface was hard reddish earth, although there were deep fissures and corrugations in places where water had coursed across it. Faustino wondered what stubborn traffic kept the track open, why the forest that leaned over it allowed it to be there.

They walked in silence, on the moon-shadowed side of the track, for half an hour. Bakula led them, walking with the unhurried confidence of a man in his own garden. Prima was just behind him; then Mateo, then Faustino. Juan and Lucas brought up the rear, walking side by side as if to block any attempt by Faustino to escape; although where they thought he might escape to, Faustino could not imagine.

The procession halted where, to the right of the path, the trees had been cut back. Faustino assumed that the resulting area of low scrub had once been a cultivated field. Brilliant stars spilled down onto it. The group gathered in the shadows on the other side of the track.

Bakula said, very quietly, “Paul, I don’t want to handcuff you to Juan, as we did before. It would cramp his style. So I’m going to have to trust you. Stay close to me and Prima from now on, and try to be quiet. And please don’t do anything foolish.”

Faustino cocked an eyebrow. Too loudly he said, “Such as what? Try to hail a cab?” Then a hand clamped itself over his mouth. It smelled of fried banana and gun oil.

Two hundred metres further on, the group halted again. Peering ahead, Faustino saw that the track gave onto a large open space randomly punctuated by solitary trees, low clumps of bushes and a few single-storey buildings that were no more than slabs of paleness in the moonlight. No lights showed.

Mateo now moved up to the front of the group. He took his gun from inside his jacket, then ran, stooping, off to the left towards a patch of absolute darkness, and disappeared. A second or two later, Bakula followed him. Faustino felt a small hand take his, heard Prima whisper, “Come on,” then he too was running. He stopped when Prima stopped, and then a powerful arm pulled him down. He sat, gasping as quietly as he could, feeling the roughness of a stone wall against his back. Two large shadows, Juan and Lucas, loomed towards him and squatted next to Prima. He felt his nerves wriggle electrically and his bladder contract. He wanted to laugh. Prima’s hand tightened on his; he had been unaware that she was still holding it. He managed to steady his breathing. Someone – Mateo, perhaps – whispered “Okay” and he felt, rather than saw, Juan and Lucas move past him.

He turned his face towards Prima and before he asked the question she murmured, “Lucas and Juan gone to assess the situation.”

He marvelled at her use of the phrase.

After a very long time that was probably no more than ten minutes, the brothers returned and held a hushed conference with Bakula and Mateo. At first it baffled Faustino, then it seriously frightened him.

“The boy’s where you said he’d be. He look okay.”

“Who’s with him?”

“He’s by hisself. Watchin TV.” A brief flash of white grin in the darkness.

“So where are the guys?”

“The house with the six on the door. Across from the ole cane press? They got the windows covered up, but we can hear em watchin the football too.”

“Can’t tell how many. Def’nitely two, but maybe more. Ain’t nobody rovin round outside, far as we can tell.”

“We could keep em penned up in there, Edson. But I guess they got phones.”

“The place got just a skinny back door. We could maybe get in there, hit em real quick before they got a chance to call somebody.”

“No,” Bakula said. “Too risky. Anyway, I need to have a conversation with them.”

“Yeah. How we gonna work that?”

“Well, either we have to persuade them to come out and talk to us, or we have to get in there. I’m not prepared to sit here and wait.”

Then Prima said, “I got an idea. Señor Paul, you by any chance got a notebook or somethin like that on you?”

 

W
HEN ESPIRITO SANTO
scored their second against DSJ – a soft tap-in from three yards – Paco “Two Wallets” Morales leaned back from the television set and cursed foully and elaborately. This was something he had been doing for the past thirty minutes, with only short pauses for drinking beer.

“Man,” he said, “we’re gettin
wiped
. I dunno why I keep watchin. I’m just depressin myself.”

The other man in the room, whose name was Diego Samuel, put down the paperback he was reading – a Yankee crime novel by Elmore Leonard – and regarded the back of his colleague’s head. Not for the first time, he thought what a dumb hairstyle that was on a forty-year-old ex-cop. Trying to pass as a rap artist or something. Pathetic.

“Wallets,” he said, “it never occur to you that you’re part of the reason Deportivo are getting trashed? You know, like it might have somethin to do with the fact we got their best player sittin across the way like a zombie instead of out there on that pitch?”

Morales half turned his head. “Nah, man. You know what? I figure, long term, we’re doin da Silva a favour.”

“Yeah? How’s that, then?”

“We teachin that fat bastard you can’t have a team that’s one genius an’ a bunch of turkeys. He need to know that. Am I right, or am I right?”

Diego closed his tired eyes and nodded. That was almost the perfect Two Wallets statement. The guy had a sort of stupid genius for self-justification. That was why he’d got himself a paid-off early retirement rather than the jail sentence he so richly deserved.

“See?” Morales now said, gesturing at the screen with his beer can. “We kick off, three passes later, the ball’s back with our keeper. I mean, what the hell is that?”

“I guess you’re right, Wallets,” Diego said. “Maybe you should go into management.”

He couldn’t stand the guy. Ten days ago, he’d only disliked him. And, yeah, feared him, just a bit. But the best part of two weeks out in this godforsaken spooky dump with only him, mostly, for company: that had made the difference. The way, for instance, he would lift up out of the chair a bit and noisily break wind without any apology. You could come back into the room and it would stink like a farm where all the cows had dysentery or something. And it had never been part of the deal that he, Diego, would do all the cooking. Well, not cooking, but putting the lousy canned and frozen food together. Still, better that way, maybe; he’d never seen Wallets wash his hands.

Think of the money, that was the only way.

One hundred and fifty thousand US dollars.

Thinking about it was like a drug, an anaesthetic, a drop into sweetness. As soon as Varga had said it, pronounced the figure, it had started to work. Three days, the captain had said; fifty thousand a day. Wow.

And he’d known, straight away, what he’d do with it.

A couple of years back, he’d gone south, down to the islands. One of them, one of the small ones with no hotels or clubs or any of that crap, was Paradise. With a capital P. Palm trees leaning over white sand that was silver at night. No traffic, nothing. Nice laid-back people.

He’d got talking to an old hippy-type guy who ran a bar on the beach. The guy had said, “You know what? I love it here. But I gotta quit, one of these days, soon. The thing is, I can live, okay, but I don’t really make any money. I need to do this, do that, buy stuff, improve the place, you know? And I can’t do it on what I make. I’m like just ticking over. You know what would be beautiful? If I didn’t have to
depend
on it. If I had a stash of money put away somewhere, so I wasn’t always thinking what the hell do I do if the going gets rough. You know what I mean? So I could just do this for
pleasure
.”

Too right.

And ever since Varga had pitched the scam to him, sitting in the cruiser up the far end of San Pedro, Diego had been dreaming, industriously. He wouldn’t do the place up much. Keep it slightly rough, ethnic, the way the tourists on the boat trips like it. Driftwood furniture. Serve barbecue fish (a boat, he’d have a boat) and lobster, salad, cold beer, not much else. One of those quiet little Japanese generators to run the nice soft lights and the fridge and the music. A house out back behind the trees. A hammock. Yes.

Except it hadn’t been three days. It had been fourteen, with this farting numbskull extortionist for company. Still. One hundred and fifty thousand dollars. God is good, but He makes you wait.

He checked his watch. An hour since the call from Varga saying that the da Silvas had quit fooling around and come up with the money. Diego was glad that they wouldn’t, after all, have to cut off one of the kid’s ears or some other piece of him. So only three, maybe four hours before he could get the hell out of here.

He kept going back and forth about Marcia and her kid, whether to take them with him down to the island. She’d love it, of course, cooking and running the joint. Wearing a bikini top and one of those sarong things, the gringo tourists looking at her. And the climate would be good for the kid’s lungs. Get him swimming, and all. Build him up, no more of those doctors’ bills that are the price you pay for sleeping with his mama.

On the other hand, there was, well, freedom. Freedom from complication. From responsibility. And there are always plenty of girls.

And it was a girl’s voice he now heard.

“Hola, Señor! Señor?”

He swung his feet off the table and grabbed the shotgun.

Wallets turned away from the TV.

“What?”

“Shuddup,” Diego hissed.

“Hola, Señor! You at home?”

Wallets got up and pulled the Colt automatic from his shoulder holster and said, “Who the…?”

“Wallets, for Chrissake.”

Diego fumbled the table lamp off and pumped the gun. He went to the window and tweaked aside the sugar sack that they’d rigged for a curtain. Wallets went to the door and leaned beside it with the Colt up against his cheek.

The clear space in front of the house was awash with moonlight and there was a girl, a kid, standing in it.

She called again. “You in there, Señor?”

Diego looked at Wallets with a question on his face and Wallets shook his fat head.

“Señor,” the girl called again. She was starting to sound bored or uncertain. “Señor, if you in there I got a message for you.” Dragging out the last word:
yoo-oo
.

Before Diego could do anything about it, Wallets yelled through the door, “Who the hell are you?”

Diego watched the girl sort of cock her head.

“Ah, Señor. Good evenin. I brung you a message.”

Wallets looked over at Diego, whose face was coming and going in the glow from the television. “Who is it?”

“A girl. I dunno, man.”

“See anyone else?”

“Nope.”

“Okay. Poke that damn cannon out the window an’ keep watchin. No, maybe you should slip out round the back. No, wait. Stay there.”

“Jesus, Wallets, which?”

“Stay there,” Wallets said, trying to sound professional, and he slipped the door chain along its slot and opened the door a crack.

“Who are you, girl?”

The girl said, “Me name Maria, from the village. I brung you a message.”

Wallets moved round to the other side of the door so that he could see her.

“What message?”

“I dunno, Señor. Is written on this piece a paper. I dunno what it say.” She held a hand up level with her face. There was something white in it.

“I think you should shoot her,” Wallets said.

“Aw, man,” Diego said. “No. Come on.”

“Señor?”

Wallets looked heavy at Diego, then put his mouth to the opening again. “Who give it you?”

“Some guy. We was hangin out down the dock an’ this boat come in, an’ the man say ten dollars for someone to come up here an’ give this message to the man at house number six.”

Wallets looked at Diego and Diego looked at Wallets and while they still didn’t know what to do Espirito Santo scored again.

“Shit,” Wallets said. “You on your own, girl?”

“Yeah.”

“How come? You ain’t scared comin up here by yusself?”

“Fuh ten dollars I ain’t scared. I don’ wanna stand here all night, tho. You want this or not, man?”

“Okay, girl, just you wait there a minute while I get my pants on.”

To Diego he said, “What you think?”

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