When Rosa fell asleep he took off her high-heeled shoes and covered her with a blanket. He turned off the lights and for a while he stood looking out through the blinds at the parking lot and the highway lights. Then he put on his jacket and quietly left the room. At the desk, the clerk was watching TV and he smiled at Fate when he saw him come in. They talked for a while about Mexican and American TV shows. The clerk said that American shows were better made but Mexican shows were funnier. Fate asked if he had cable. The clerk said cable was only for rich people or faggots. Real life was on the free channels, and that was where you had to look for it. Fate asked if he thought anything was really free in the end, and the clerk started to laugh and said he knew where Fate was heading but he wasn’t about to be convinced. Fate said he wasn’t trying to convince him of anything, and then he asked whether he had a computer he could use to send an e-mail. The clerk shook his head and looked through a pile of papers on the desk until he found the card of a Santa Teresa cybercafé.
“It’s open all night,” he said, which surprised Fate, because even in New York he’d never heard of cybercafés that stayed open twenty-four hours.
The card for the Santa Teresa cybercafé was a deep red, so red that it was hard to read what was printed on it. On the back, in a lighter red, was a map that showed exactly where the café was located. He asked the receptionist to translate the name of the place. The clerk laughed and said it was called Fire, Walk With Me.
“It sounds like the title of a David Lynch film,” said Fate.
The clerk shrugged and said that all of Mexico was a collage of diverse and wide-ranging homages.
“Every single thing in this country is an homage to everything in the world, even the things that haven’t happened yet,” he said.
After he told Fate how to get to the cybercafé, they talked for a while about Lynch’s films. The clerk had seen all of them. Fate had seen only three or four. According to the clerk, Lynch’s greatest achievement was the TV series Twin Peaks. Fate liked The Elephant Man best, maybe because he’d often felt like the elephant man himself, wanting to be like other people but at the same time knowing he was different. When the clerk asked him whether he’d heard that Michael Jackson had bought or tried to buy the skeleton of the elephant man, Fate shrugged and said that Michael Jackson was sick, I don’t think so, said the clerk, watching something presumably important that was happening on TV just then.
“In my opinion,” he said with his eyes fixed on the TV Fate couldn’t see, “Michael knows things the rest of us don’t.”
“We all know things we think nobody else knows,” said Fate.
Then he said good night, put the cybercafé card in his pocket, and went back to his room.
For a long time Fate stood with the lights out, looking through the blinds at the gravel lot and the incessant lights of the trucks going by on the highway. He thought about Chucho Flores and Charly Cruz. Once again he saw the shadow that Charly Cruz’s house cast over the vacant lot next door. He heard Chucho Flores’s laugh and he saw Rosa Méndez stretched out on the bed in a bare, narrow room like a monk’s cell. He thought about Corona, Corona’s gaze, the way Corona had looked at him. He thought about the man with the mustache who had joined them at the last minute and who didn’t speak, and then he remembered the man’s voice when they were fleeing, as shrill as a bird’s. When he was tired of standing he pulled a chair over to the window and kept watching. Sometimes he thought about his mother’s apartment and he remembered concrete courtyards where children shouted and played. If he closed his eyes he could see a white dress lifted by the wind on the streets of Harlem as invincible laughter spilled down the walls, running along the sidewalks, cool and warm as the white dress. He felt sleep trickling in his ears or rising from his chest. But he didn’t want to close his eyes and instead he kept scanning the lot, the two streetlights in front of the motel, the shadows dispersed by the flashes of car lights like comet tails in the dark.
Sometimes he turned his head and glanced at Rosa sleeping. But the third or fourth time he realized he didn’t need to turn and look. It simply wasn’t necessary. For a second he thought he would never be sleepy again. Suddenly, as he was following the wake of the taillights of two trucks that seemed to be in a race, the telephone rang. When he answered he heard the clerk’s voice and he knew immediately that this was what he’d been waiting for.
“Mr. Fate,” said the clerk, “someone just called to ask if you were staying here.”
He asked who had called.
“A policeman, Mr. Fate,” said the clerk.“A policeman? A Mexican policeman?”
“I just talked to him. He wanted to know if you were a guest here.”
“And what did you tell him?” asked Fate.
“The truth, that you were here, but that you’d left,” said the clerk.
“Thanks,” said Fate, and he hung up.
He woke up Rosa and told her to put on her shoes. He packed the few things he had unpacked and put the suitcase in the trunk of his car. Outside it was cold. When he went back into the room Rosa was combing her hair in the bathroom, and Fate told her they didn’t have time for that. They got in the car and drove to the motel reception. The clerk was standing there polishing his Coke-bottle glasses with the tail of his shirt. Fate took out a fifty-dollar bill and slid it across the counter.
“If they come, tell them I went home,” he said.
“They’ll come,” said the clerk.
As they turned onto the highway, he asked Rosa whether she was carrying her passport.
“Of course not,” said Rosa.
“The police are looking for me,” said Fate, and he told her what the clerk had said.
“Why are you so sure it’s the police?” asked Rosa. “It could be Corona, or Chucho.”
“You’re right,” said Fate, “maybe it’s Charly Cruz or maybe it’s Rosita Mendez putting on a man’s voice, but I’d rather not wait to find out.”
They drove around the block to see whether anyone was lying in wait for them, but everything was calm (the calm of quicksilver or the calm that heralds border dawns), and the second time around they parked the car under a tree in front of a neighbor’s house. For a while they sat there, alert to any sign, any movement. When they crossed the street they were careful to stay away from the streetlights. Then they hopped over the fence and headed straight for the backyard. As Rosa searched for her keys, Fate saw the geometry book hanging from the clothesline. Without thinking, he went over and touched it with the tip of his fingers. Then, not because he cared but to defuse the tension, he asked Rosa what Testamento geométrico meant and Rosa translated it for him without comment.
“It’s odd that someone would hang a book out like a shirt,” he whispered.
“It was my father’s idea.”
The house, although shared by father and daughter, had a clearly feminine air. It smelled of incense and blond tobacco. Rosa turned on a lamp and for a time they sat back in armchairs draped in multicolored Mexican blankets, neither one speaking a word. Then Rosa made coffee, and while she was in the kitchen, Fate saw Óscar Amalfitano appear in the doorway, barefoot, his hair uncombed, dressed in a very wrinkled white shirt and jeans, as if he’d slept in his clothes. For a moment the two of them looked at each other, wordless, as if they were asleep and their dreams had converged on common ground, a place where sound was alien. Fate got up and introduced himself. Amalfitano asked whether he spoke Spanish. Fate apologized and smiled and Amaffitano repeated the question in English.
“I’m a friend of your daughter’s,” said Fate, “she asked me in.”
From the kitchen came Rosa’s voice, telling her father in Spanish not to worry that he was a reporter from New York. Then she asked him if he wanted coffee too and Amalfitano said yes without taking his eyes off the stranger. When Rosa appeared with a tray, three cups of coffee, a little pitcher of milk, and the sugar bowl, her father asked her what was going on. Nothing right now, I think, said Rosa, but some strange things happened earlier. Amalfitano looked down then and studied his bare feet. He added milk and sugar to his coffee and asked his daughter to explain everything. Rosa looked at Fate and translated what her father had just said. Fate smiled and sat down again in his chair. He took a cup of coffee and began to sip it as Rosa proceeded to tell her father, in Spanish, what had happened that night, from the boxing match to the moment when she had to leave the American’s motel. When Rosa finished her story the sun was beginning to come up, and Amalfitano, who had interrupted his daughter only a very few times asking questions and pressing for explanations, suggested that they call the motel and ask the clerk whether the police had shown up or not. Rosa translated her father’s suggestion, and more out of politeness than because he thought it would do any good, Fate called the number of the motel. No one answered.
Óscar Amalfitano got up from his chair and went over to the window. The street was silent. You’d both better go, he said. Rosa looked at him without saying a word.
“Can you get her to the United States and then take her to an airport and put her on a plane to Barcelona?”
Fate said he could. Óscar Amalfitano left the window and disappeared into his room. When he came back he handed Rosa a roll of bills. It isn’t much but it’ll be enough for your ticket and the first few days in Barcelona. I don’t want to go, Papa, said Rosa. Yes, yes, I know that, said Amalfitano, and he made her take the money. Where’s your passport? Go get it. Pack a suitcase. But hurry, he said, and then he went back to his post at the window. Behind the Spirit that belonged to the neighbors across the street, he saw the black Peregrino he was looking for. He sighed. Fate set his coffee on a table and went over to the window.
“I’d like to know what’s going on,” said Fate. His voice was hoarse.
“Get my daughter out of this city and then forget everything. Or no, don’t forget anything, just take her away.”
At that moment Fate remembered his appointment with Guadalupe Roncal.
“Does it have to do with the killings?” he asked. “Do you think this Chucho Flores is mixed up in that?”
“They’re all mixed up in it,” said Amalfitano.
A tall young man in jeans and a denim jacket got out of the Peregrino and lit a cigarette. Rosa looked over her father’s shoulder.
“Who is it?” she asked.
“Haven’t you ever seen him before?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“He’s a cop,” said Amalfitano.
Then he took his daughter by the hand and pulled her into her room. They closed the door. Fate guessed they were saying their goodbyes and he looked out the window again. The man in the Peregrino was smoking, leaning on the hood of his car. Every so often he looked up at the sky, which was gradually growing brighter. He seemed relaxed, in no hurry, at ease, happy to be watching another sunrise in Santa Teresa. A man came out of one of the neighboring houses and started his car. The man in the Peregrino tossed the end of his cigarette on the sidewalk and got in his car. He never once looked toward the house, When Rosa came out of her room she was carrying a small suitcase.
“How will we leave?” Fate wanted to know.
“By the door,” said Amalfitano.
Then Fate saw, as if it were a movie he didn’t entirely understand but that in a strange way took him back to his mother’s death, how Amalfitano kissed and hugged his daughter and then strode purposefully outside. First Fate watched him walk through the front yard, then he watched him open the peeling wooden gate, then he watched him cross the street, barefoot, his hair uncombed, to the black Peregrino. When he got there the man rolled down the window and they talked for a while, Amalfitano in the street and the man in his car. They know each other, thought Fate, this isn’t the first time they’ve talked.
“It’s time, let’s go,” said Rosa.
Fate followed her. They crossed the yard and the street and their bodies cast extremely fine shadows that every five seconds were shaken by a tremor, as if the sun were spinning backward. When he got in the car Fate thought he heard a laugh behind him and he turned around, but all he saw was Amalfitano and the young man still talking in the same position as before.