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Things We Lost in the Fire, The Inn (2)

The Inn (2)

Rocío sat down on one of the benches and said, “Finally: Flor, now I can tell you. Back at the kiosk it was no good, they might have been listening to us. You've got to help me with something.”

“With what?”

“No, first tell me you're going to help me. Swear it.”

“OK, I swear.”

“OK. Check this out.”

Rocío opened the backpack she had carried the whole way to the plaza and showed her what was inside. When the light from the streetlamp fell onto it, Florencia gave a startled jump: it looked like the meat was a dead animal, a piece of a human body, something macabre. But no: it was uncured chorizo sausages. To relax and to keep Rocío from laughing at her moment of panic, she said, “What do you want me to help you with, a barbecue?”

“No, dummy. It's to scare the shit out of Elena.”

Then Rocío explained her plan, and in her eyes it was clear that she hated Elena. She knew, clearly, that Elena had been her father's girlfriend. She knew they had fought over the police academy, but that the real problem was something else. Still, she didn't admit it. It only came through in the way she talked about Elena, the way her voice trembled with happiness when she imagined her humiliated. It was clear she wanted to punish Elena and defend her mother. Florencia focused all her mental energy; someone had told her once that if you wished hard for something you could make it happen, and she wanted Rocío to confide in her, to trust her. If only she would, then they would really be inseparable. But Rocío didn't say another word, and so Florencia just agreed to meet her after dinner behind the Inn, and to bring a flashlight.

They could get in through the gate by the pool, which was always open. Anyway, in Sanagasta no one locked their doors. It was the off-season, so the whole big building that surrounded the pool area was closed. Only the main building was in use, the one that looked out onto the street; in between the two was the casino, which was also closed that time of year except when someone rented it out for a special occasion. The Inn's shape was odd—it really was a lot like a barracks.

Florencia and Rocío went in barefoot so they wouldn't make any noise. They had keys because Rocío's father still had a set for the back door and a copy of the master key for the bedrooms. Rocío figured he'd planned to return them and then forgotten in the heat of the argument. As soon as she saw them, she had the idea: sneak into the Inn at night, when the employee on duty was sleeping in a room in the front building, far away. They'd go into several of the rooms, make holes in the mattresses—which were made of foam: it wouldn't even take a sharp knife to tear them—stick a chorizo inside, and remake the bed. In a couple of months, the smell of decomposing meat would be unbearable, and with luck, it would take them a long time to find the source of the stench. Florencia was surprised by the nastiness of the plan, and Rocío said she'd seen it in a movie.

No sooner did they open the gate than they saw Blackie, the most protective of the Inn's dogs. But Blackie knew Rocío and greeted her by licking her hand. To soothe him further she gave him one of the sausages, and he went off to eat it beside a cactus. They made it inside with no problems. The hallway was very dark and when Florencia turned on the flashlight she felt a savage fear; she was sure the light would illuminate a white face rushing toward her, or that it would betray the feet of a man hiding in a corner. But there was nothing. Nothing but what should have been there: the bedroom doors, some chairs, a sign for the bathrooms, the computer room where the machine was turned off and some framed photos on the walls showed Chaya harvest festivals of years gone by. The Inn always filled up during Chaya, and they threw lively chayero parties on the grounds.

Rocío signaled for her to follow. She was very pretty in the dark, thought Florencia. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail and she was wearing a black sweater, because night in Sanagasta was always cold. In the silence of the empty building Florencia could hear Rocío's agitated breathing. “I'm crazy nervous,” Rocío murmured close to her ear, and she brought Florencia's hand, the one not holding the flashlight, to her chest. “Feel how my heart is pounding.” Florencia let Rocío press her hand against that warmth and she had a strange feeling, like she had to pee, a tingling just below her belly button. Rocío let go of her hand and went into one of the rooms, but the feeling stayed with Florencia, and she had to grip the flashlight with both hands because the light was trembling on the wall.

Tearing the mattress with the kitchen knife they'd brought turned out to be easy, just as Rocío had predicted. Nor was it difficult to put the meat into the hole. From the side the knife opening was noticeable, but once they put the sheets back on the trick was perfect. No one would ever guess that there was sausage or anything else hidden in the mattress; at least not right away. They carried out the same operation in two more rooms, and then Florencia, who was starting to get scared, said: “Why don't we go, this is enough.”

“No, I still have six chorizos left. Come on,” said Rocío, and Florencia had no choice but to follow her.

They went into a room that looked out onto the street. They had to be very careful that the light from the flashlight couldn't be seen from outside, because the shutters over the window weren't closed well. There was even a little light from a streetlight shining in. At that hour probably no one would be out in Sanagasta, but you never knew. What if someone thought there were burglars in the Inn and shot at them? Anything could happen. They made the cut, stuffed in the sausage, and remade the bed with no trouble.

“I'm tired,” said Rocío. “Let's lie down a while.”

“You're crazy.”

“Oh, it's fine. Come on, let's take a break.”

But when they were about to lie down together on the freshly made double bed, a noise came from outside that made them crouch down, terrified. It was sudden and impossible: the sound of a car or truck, so loud that it couldn't be real, it had to be a recording. And then there was another motor and then someone started pounding on the shutters with something metal and the two girls embraced in the darkness, screaming, and now in addition to the noise of the motors and the pounding on the windows, there were the running steps of many feet thudding around the Inn, and the cries of men, and the men who were running beat on all the windows and the shutters and they shone the headlights of the truck or the car into the room where the girls were; they could see the headlights between the shutter slats. The car had driven up through the garden and the feet kept running and the hands pounding and something metallic was also pounding and they could hear the voices of men, many men, shouting. One of them said, “Let's go, let's go,” and then they heard shattering glass and more shouts. Florencia could feel it as she wet herself, she couldn't help it, she couldn't, nor could she keep screaming because the fear wouldn't let her breathe.

The car's headlights turned off and the door to the room opened little by little.

The girls tried to get up, but they were trembling too much. Florencia thought she was going to faint. She hid her face on Rocío's shoulder and hugged her until it hurt. Two people had come into the room. One of them turned on the light, and the girls barely recognized her: Elena. Beside her was Telma, the night-shift employee. “What are you two doing here?” asked Elena when she had taken in the sight of them, and Telma lowered the gun she was holding. Elena yanked them angrily up from the floor, but then she realized that the girls were too afraid: she had heard them scream like they were being murdered. It was their own screams that had given them away. The girls weren't afraid of her; something else had happened, but Elena couldn't figure out what it was. When she tried to question them, they cried or asked if that had been the Inn's alarm. They asked what that noise had been and who was doing the pounding. “What alarm?” asked Elena several times. “What men are you talking about?” But the girls didn't seem to understand. One of the two, the daughter of the lawyer running for La Rioja's city council, had pissed herself. Mario's daughter had a backpack full of chorizos. What was this, by God? Why had they screamed like that, and for so long? Telma said she had heard them crying and howling for around five minutes.

It was Mario's daughter who spoke first, and more calmly: she said they had heard cars, they'd seen headlights, she talked again about running feet and pounding on the windows. Elena got angry. The brat was lying—she was making that ghost story up to ruin the Inn for her the way Mario had wanted to. She was betraying her the way Mario had, surely on his orders. She didn't want to hear any more. She called the lawyer's wife and Mario; she told them that she'd found the girls in the Inn and asked them to come pick them up. This time she wouldn't call the police, but if it happened again, they'd go straight to the station.

Rocío and Florencia were wrenched out of their embrace when their parents arrived. “Tomorrow, we'll talk tomorrow,” they told each other. “It happened, it all happened, they set an alarm on us, no, it wasn't an alarm.” They whispered furiously, their mouths close to each other's ear, and they didn't listen to the anger of their parents, who demanded explanations that they weren't going to get that night. Florencia's mother changed her daughter's urine-soaked pants in silence, her face worried. “Tomorrow you're telling me everything,” she said, and it was hard for her to keep faking anger; the girl was clearly scared. “Oh, and you're not seeing your friend anymore, OK? Until your father tells us to come back to La Rioja, you stay in the house the whole time. Grounded, no complaints. Damned little brats, who the hell sent me this shit to deal with, just tell me that.”

Florencia pulled the blanket up until her face was almost covered, and she decided she would never again turn out the bedside light. She wasn't worried about being separated from Rocío; she had her phone and a lot of credit and she knew her mother would eventually ease up. Now she was much more worried about sleeping. She was afraid of the running men, of the car, the headlights. Who were they, where had they gone? What if they came to find her another time, another day? And if they followed her to La Rioja? The door of her room was cracked open, and she started to sweat when she saw someone moving in the hallway. But it was only her sister.

“What happened.”

“Nothing, leave me alone.”

“You pissed yourself. Something happened.”

“Leave me alone.”

Lali pursed her mouth and then smiled.



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The Inn (2)

Rocío sat down on one of the benches and said, “Finally: Flor, now I can tell you. Back at the kiosk it was no good, they might have been listening to us. You've got to help me with something.”

“With what?”

“No, first tell me you're going to help me. Swear it.”

“OK, I swear.”

“OK. Check this out.”

Rocío opened the backpack she had carried the whole way to the plaza and showed her what was inside. When the light from the streetlamp fell onto it, Florencia gave a startled jump: it looked like the meat was a dead animal, a piece of a human body, something macabre. But no: it was uncured chorizo sausages. To relax and to keep Rocío from laughing at her moment of panic, she said, “What do you want me to help you with, a barbecue?”

“No, dummy. It's to scare the shit out of Elena.”

Then Rocío explained her plan, and in her eyes it was clear that she hated Elena. She knew, clearly, that Elena had been her father's girlfriend. She knew they had fought over the police academy, but that the real problem was something else. Still, she didn't admit it. It only came through in the way she talked about Elena, the way her voice trembled with happiness when she imagined her humiliated. It was clear she wanted to punish Elena and defend her mother. Florencia focused all her mental energy; someone had told her once that if you wished hard for something you could make it happen, and she wanted Rocío to confide in her, to trust her. If only she would, then they would really be inseparable. But Rocío didn't say another word, and so Florencia just agreed to meet her after dinner behind the Inn, and to bring a flashlight.

They could get in through the gate by the pool, which was always open. Anyway, in Sanagasta no one locked their doors. It was the off-season, so the whole big building that surrounded the pool area was closed. Only the main building was in use, the one that looked out onto the street; in between the two was the casino, which was also closed that time of year except when someone rented it out for a special occasion. The Inn's shape was odd—it really was a lot like a barracks.

Florencia and Rocío went in barefoot so they wouldn't make any noise. They had keys because Rocío's father still had a set for the back door and a copy of the master key for the bedrooms. Rocío figured he'd planned to return them and then forgotten in the heat of the argument. As soon as she saw them, she had the idea: sneak into the Inn at night, when the employee on duty was sleeping in a room in the front building, far away. They'd go into several of the rooms, make holes in the mattresses—which were made of foam: it wouldn't even take a sharp knife to tear them—stick a chorizo inside, and remake the bed. In a couple of months, the smell of decomposing meat would be unbearable, and with luck, it would take them a long time to find the source of the stench. Florencia was surprised by the nastiness of the plan, and Rocío said she'd seen it in a movie.

No sooner did they open the gate than they saw Blackie, the most protective of the Inn's dogs. But Blackie knew Rocío and greeted her by licking her hand. To soothe him further she gave him one of the sausages, and he went off to eat it beside a cactus. They made it inside with no problems. The hallway was very dark and when Florencia turned on the flashlight she felt a savage fear; she was sure the light would illuminate a white face rushing toward her, or that it would betray the feet of a man hiding in a corner. But there was nothing. Nothing but what should have been there: the bedroom doors, some chairs, a sign for the bathrooms, the computer room where the machine was turned off and some framed photos on the walls showed Chaya harvest festivals of years gone by. The Inn always filled up during Chaya, and they threw lively chayero parties on the grounds.

Rocío signaled for her to follow. She was very pretty in the dark, thought Florencia. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail and she was wearing a black sweater, because night in Sanagasta was always cold. In the silence of the empty building Florencia could hear Rocío's agitated breathing. “I'm crazy nervous,” Rocío murmured close to her ear, and she brought Florencia's hand, the one not holding the flashlight, to her chest. “Feel how my heart is pounding.” Florencia let Rocío press her hand against that warmth and she had a strange feeling, like she had to pee, a tingling just below her belly button. Rocío let go of her hand and went into one of the rooms, but the feeling stayed with Florencia, and she had to grip the flashlight with both hands because the light was trembling on the wall.

Tearing the mattress with the kitchen knife they'd brought turned out to be easy, just as Rocío had predicted. Nor was it difficult to put the meat into the hole. From the side the knife opening was noticeable, but once they put the sheets back on the trick was perfect. No one would ever guess that there was sausage or anything else hidden in the mattress; at least not right away. They carried out the same operation in two more rooms, and then Florencia, who was starting to get scared, said: “Why don't we go, this is enough.”

“No, I still have six chorizos left. Come on,” said Rocío, and Florencia had no choice but to follow her.

They went into a room that looked out onto the street. They had to be very careful that the light from the flashlight couldn't be seen from outside, because the shutters over the window weren't closed well. There was even a little light from a streetlight shining in. At that hour probably no one would be out in Sanagasta, but you never knew. What if someone thought there were burglars in the Inn and shot at them? Anything could happen. They made the cut, stuffed in the sausage, and remade the bed with no trouble.

“I'm tired,” said Rocío. “Let's lie down a while.”

“You're crazy.”

“Oh, it's fine. Come on, let's take a break.”

But when they were about to lie down together on the freshly made double bed, a noise came from outside that made them crouch down, terrified. It was sudden and impossible: the sound of a car or truck, so loud that it couldn't be real, it had to be a recording. And then there was another motor and then someone started pounding on the shutters with something metal and the two girls embraced in the darkness, screaming, and now in addition to the noise of the motors and the pounding on the windows, there were the running steps of many feet thudding around the Inn, and the cries of men, and the men who were running beat on all the windows and the shutters and they shone the headlights of the truck or the car into the room where the girls were; they could see the headlights between the shutter slats. The car had driven up through the garden and the feet kept running and the hands pounding and something metallic was also pounding and they could hear the voices of men, many men, shouting. One of them said, “Let's go, let's go,” and then they heard shattering glass and more shouts. Florencia could feel it as she wet herself, she couldn't help it, she couldn't, nor could she keep screaming because the fear wouldn't let her breathe.

The car's headlights turned off and the door to the room opened little by little.

The girls tried to get up, but they were trembling too much. Florencia thought she was going to faint. She hid her face on Rocío's shoulder and hugged her until it hurt. Two people had come into the room. One of them turned on the light, and the girls barely recognized her: Elena. Beside her was Telma, the night-shift employee. “What are you two doing here?” asked Elena when she had taken in the sight of them, and Telma lowered the gun she was holding. Elena yanked them angrily up from the floor, but then she realized that the girls were too afraid: she had heard them scream like they were being murdered. It was their own screams that had given them away. The girls weren't afraid of her; something else had happened, but Elena couldn't figure out what it was. When she tried to question them, they cried or asked if that had been the Inn's alarm. They asked what that noise had been and who was doing the pounding. “What alarm?” asked Elena several times. “What men are you talking about?” But the girls didn't seem to understand. One of the two, the daughter of the lawyer running for La Rioja's city council, had pissed herself. Mario's daughter had a backpack full of chorizos. What was this, by God? Why had they screamed like that, and for so long? Telma said she had heard them crying and howling for around five minutes.

It was Mario's daughter who spoke first, and more calmly: she said they had heard cars, they'd seen headlights, she talked again about running feet and pounding on the windows. Elena got angry. The brat was lying—she was making that ghost story up to ruin the Inn for her the way Mario had wanted to. She was betraying her the way Mario had, surely on his orders. She didn't want to hear any more. She called the lawyer's wife and Mario; she told them that she'd found the girls in the Inn and asked them to come pick them up. This time she wouldn't call the police, but if it happened again, they'd go straight to the station.

Rocío and Florencia were wrenched out of their embrace when their parents arrived. “Tomorrow, we'll talk tomorrow,” they told each other. “It happened, it all happened, they set an alarm on us, no, it wasn't an alarm.” They whispered furiously, their mouths close to each other's ear, and they didn't listen to the anger of their parents, who demanded explanations that they weren't going to get that night. Florencia's mother changed her daughter's urine-soaked pants in silence, her face worried. “Tomorrow you're telling me everything,” she said, and it was hard for her to keep faking anger; the girl was clearly scared. “Oh, and you're not seeing your friend anymore, OK? Until your father tells us to come back to La Rioja, you stay in the house the whole time. Grounded, no complaints. Damned little brats, who the hell sent me this shit to deal with, just tell me that.”

Florencia pulled the blanket up until her face was almost covered, and she decided she would never again turn out the bedside light. She wasn't worried about being separated from Rocío; she had her phone and a lot of credit and she knew her mother would eventually ease up. Now she was much more worried about sleeping. She was afraid of the running men, of the car, the headlights. Who were they, where had they gone? What if they came to find her another time, another day? And if they followed her to La Rioja? The door of her room was cracked open, and she started to sweat when she saw someone moving in the hallway. But it was only her sister.

“What happened.”

“Nothing, leave me alone.”

“You pissed yourself. Something happened.”

“Leave me alone.”

Lali pursed her mouth and then smiled.

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