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The War – Episode 20

December 19, 9:17 PM Mountain
Tucson, Arizona

 

Stefano heard one of his men walk quietly up the aisle behind him. It was Rodrigo, who commanded the second team. They had been at their current location for a little less than an hour, and had quickly killed all of the building’s occupants. They had found them huddled together, praying. Stefano had silenced them himself.

Jefe,” the underling said, “We’ve rigged the doors with the last of our bombs.”

“Good,” Stefano grunted. He had been standing and looking at the artwork along one of the walls. Unlike his subordinates, he was not a convert. He had grown up with the faith, while the others had been shown the light, mostly in prison.  This was not the first time he’d been in a Christian church, but it was the first time he had been in one so large and ornate.

Also unlike the rest, his skin was not marked with gang and prison tattoos. Men with nothing but time on their hands spend a lot of time talking, and the recruiters had some success finding receptive ears in the overcrowded hellholes the governments of the world used to house their criminals when they could neither bribe nor kill their way out of a conviction. All but a couple of the men he had led across the border were former gang members, veterans of the battles between the drug cartels and the Mexican government.

His Spanish was flawless, with an accent which made it sound like he was born in Nogales. His English was almost as good, but he was careful to not use it too much. He had never been able to shake a slight British accent, which he had acquired during his time at university.

“Any sign that we’ve been detected?” he asked, turning toward the man.

“No,” Rodrigo replied, pointing toward the ceiling, “Armando is up in the bell tower. He says that every so often a helicopter flies by, but it never looks at the church.” He looked nervously at the altar with the large crucifix hanging above it.

“Good,” Stefano said, “We’ve done our job. We’ll rest here for a few more hours, then start making our way out of the city. By dawn, we’ll be back in the mountains.

“It’ll be good to get home,” Rodrigo replied.

Stefano nodded, saying “I’m going to get some sleep. Have someone wake me at midnight.”

The tall man turned and opened the door at the front of the chapel. He walked into the room beyond, finding the jackets and ceremonial vestments of the priests and altar boys hung from hangers. He pulled them down and threw them into a pile on the floor.  He untied his boots and loosened them around his ankles, then lay down on the clothing. He was asleep in moments with his hand curled around the grip of his carbine.

Rodrigo lingered in the chapel for a moment, looking around at the pictures on the wall. They showed the Stations of the Cross. As he turned in a circle, he considered the pictures of Christ carrying his cross, falling, and finally reaching the place of his death. Rodrigo’s gaze again went to the crucifix above the altar. He was lost in thought for a moment, then he looked down at the altar itself. The unblinking eyes of the two priests they had found in the cathedral stared at him without the anguish he saw on the face of Christ. Their bodies lay across the altar, with their heads hanging back over its edge. Without realizing what he was doing, he crossed himself, then turned and walked out of the chapel.



 

Other episodes can be found here.  The rest of the story can be found in Escort Duty, available now at Amazon.

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