James Owens, author of Tamarin, recently published a collection of poems titled Family Portrait with Scythe. His stories have appeared in Nightscript, Kestrel, Nossa Morte, and The Nautilus Engine. He lives in a small town in northern Ontario, Canada.
The bundle of pale fur in the rear view might have been anything, a stray cat or a fuzzy scarf. He was sure it was an animal, though, even if not the animal he had imagined seeing, some kind of roadkill, a common enough sight along this stretch of highway between open fields on the left and wooded, expensive subdivisions on the right.
Daryl drove this way at least five days a week, morning and evening, and he had learned to be careful, especially when he had been held up at work and was heading home late, when animals were on the move. Deer were the dangerous ones, but there was always a rabbit or possum lying crushed, waiting for the animal control truck to come along and scoop up the mangled corpse.
But he didn’t think this was a rabbit, or even a raccoon. Daryl eased his car off the asphalt onto the gravel shoulder and got out to have a look. Blown leaves skittered across the road and around his feet, like small brown and yellow creatures running from the wind.
It was a monkey.
The animal lay on its back, no larger than a doll, arms flung wide as if for an embrace, knees cocked at a jaunty angle, face tilted so that a grin bared teeth in its short snout, a disquietingly human expression of bracing for impact. The empty eyes stared their one question into the sky, as if hypnotized by the first stars beginning to shimmer above the horizon.
The animal lay on its back, no larger than a doll, arms flung wide as if for an embrace, knees cocked at a jaunty angle…
The monkey was covered with long, golden-orange fur that looked soft to the touch, that would have invited caresses when it was alive, and Daryl almost knew what to call it, what kind of monkey this was, his near-knowledge the echo of some nature program he had seen with his son on PBS. He nudged its shoulder with the toe of his shoe, and its head rocked back and forth. The monkey must have been struck by a car, though Daryl could see no obvious wound and no blood. Or maybe it had just died and been tossed from a window. A gust of the same wind that chased the leaves now ruffled the fur on its legs and belly.
Daryl looked around, puzzled over what to do next. Somehow finding a dead monkey beside the highway was qualitatively different than finding a raccoon, or even a fox. Maybe it was the creature’s human expression or the vulnerable, pink skin lining the outflung hands, or simply its exotic nature and the fact that it must have belonged to someone who might be wondering what had become of it—there were no wild monkeys in Indiana, that was for sure—but he felt a vague responsibility. It would be wrong to leave it just lying there.
A few cars passed, without slowing. There were residential subdivisions not far away, but the only sign that anyone lived along this particular stretch of road was a gravel driveway that led off among the darkening trees a hundred yards further along the road. He started walking, thinking he would go to the house and ask, but made it only a few steps before turning and coming back for the monkey.
He was surprised by how light it was, despite the illusion of bulk created by its fur, no more than three or four pounds, like the disconcerting moment of holding a newborn baby for the first time, arms tensed as if for a burden, then the weight dreamlike and hardly detectable. He didn’t like gripping it under the arm pits with its legs and tail swinging, so ended up cradling it in the crook of his left arm, against his chest.
The house was out of sight among the trees. The twilight was deep now. Long, solid shadows fell across the gravel, and there were furtive rustlings in the bushes to either side, small animals crouching down as he passed. He thought about picking Bryan up in the morning, how he would tell his son the story of this odd adventure, embroidering in whatever way would best keep the boy’s attention and suggest some whiff of danger, here on the outskirts of well-lit, ordinary Fort Wayne.
Halfway to the house, Daryl berated himself for leaving his car back at the highway. Not only was he unsure whether he had locked the car, but how was he going to look to anyone in the house who saw him coming, a trespasser hugging a dead monkey?
But it didn’t matter how he looked. There was no one at home. A motion-activated light flicked on over the garage door. It was a large, two-story house, but the windows were blank and unlit, and Daryl knew there would be no answer when he knocked on the door, but he knocked anyway. The sound of his knuckles on the wood was small. The room on the other side swallowed it, and there was no answer.
The Colonel examined the woman like a specimen in a laboratory, the American woman who had failed in her duties, as simple and clear as they had been. She stared at the floor, not meeting his gaze, but that was only sullenness. She was not afraid, he knew. The Colonel thought, with a secret flush of warmth, of the days not so long in the past when she would have been very afraid, when Guzman would have pinned her arms behind her back and the Colonel, in the sound-proofed privacy of his office in the presidential palace, only a few doors away from the president himself, would have pulled the razor from his desk and unfolded it slowly enough for her to know what was happening, and he would have taken an ear for her failure. But not here, not now, and the American woman knew it.
“Where is Luisa?” he asked her again.
“I already told Guzman that I don’t know. She must have gone through the window in the downstairs bathroom, is my guess. Somebody, not me, left it open.” She raised her eyes. “Guzman goes in there to smoke.”
She said it with a sneer, as if revealing something she had held in reserve, a coward’s attempt to shift blame. She had come with the house, hired by the FBI. The Colonel accepted as a matter of course that a part of her job was reporting to the Bureau on his activities, in addition to making the occasional slovenly gesture toward house-keeping.
“I was away for just one night,” he said. “The only thing you had to do was feed Luisa and put her to bed, and you failed in this one thing. I come home and find that she is gone, and you didn’t even know she was gone, until I called for her and discovered it myself. Were you even here last night? Did you go to a man, perhaps, and leave Luisa alone?”
The woman pressed her lips together and said nothing. The Colonel saw no reason for prolonging the encounter.
“You’re fired. You have ten minutes to gather your things from your room. Guzman will drive you out to the highway. Call someone to pick you up, if there is anyone. Or walk, I don’t give a shit,” he said. “You won’t be paid. If you object to that, just try to sue me.” The threat was empty. The FBI paid the house-keeper, and the Colonel had no control over that.
Now the woman laughed, shaking her head, miming disbelief, trying to sound tough, or what she imagined was tough. She had no understanding of what was tough. “You and your fucking monkey. You fucking pervert.”
The Colonel’s right hand twitched, as he thought of the razor again. “You should hope very sincerely that we find her and in good heath,” he said, levelly, simply.
As stupid as she was, she must have heard something in his voice. She went.
In the downstairs bathroom, the Colonel found a long, yellow-orange hair caught in the sliding panel of the window. It was a narrow window, the opening not much wider than his hand, but that would have been enough for her. And it was high in the wall opposite the shower, but Luisa could leap. He pulled the hair loose from where it had snagged and pressed it to his lips for a moment then let it fall into the waste basket.
He sniffed the air, and, yes, he caught the acrid whinge of tobacco smoke. His first Luisa—his wife, who, the Colonel believed, would have been both amused and proud to know that she shared her name with the only other being he had ever loved—had smoked voluminously from the day they had met. The smoking had been nothing unusual in that time and place, but she had died of lung cancer, an insulting and ugly death.
The faint scent was an echo from those horrible last days of sitting by her, as he hacked her life out in wet coughing, the doctors frightened to fail the Colonel but unable to do anything for her, except pump her full of morphine. He had forbidden smoking in this house, but still, he would say nothing to Guzman. He would not allow the bitch whose fault this was to have the triumph of creating ill-feeling between himself and the bodyguard he had depended on for so long. Besides, the Colonel knew that everyone needed some little rebellion from authority, even when the authority was his own.
He walked back up the stairs to his office, where he would pace and think about the questions Springer had asked him last night in Chicago, endless demands for the information that was now the only commodity the Colonel had to trade.
The Colonel remembered the first time he had showed his wife the sea. It was one of the sacred memories that he kept deep inside, calling them to the surface now and then to count through the details of each moment, not so differently than how his ignorant mother had counted her rosary beads.
He had been a half-wild common soldier then and Luisa little more than a farm girl, but they had married, and that same day he had driven her a hundred miles through the mountains and the jungle where fighting was going on, to the ocean, tall waves thundering on the rocky beach, and the seabirds tilting in the wind and screaming overhead. She had been excited, her eyes wide with wonder as she kicked off her wedding shoes and gripped his wrist for her first trembling steps into the blue water. She told him the sea was the vastest, most alive thing she had ever seen in her life. He felt the same way about her.
When Bryan saw the dead monkey in the bottom drawer of Daryl’s refrigerator, he stood with his eyes wide and said, “Wow.”
Daryl loved his son so purely that he would have embraced the opportunity to trade his own life for Bryan’s. Daryl had daydreamed, as if indulging a secret vice, of demanding that a reluctant surgeon take the heart from his own chest and give it to Bryan, who was on the edge of death if a matching transplant could not be found, or of perishing submerged in an icy river while holding Bryan up to the air.
He would have been embarrassed to speak the fantasy aloud, but at least it had the virtue of clarity, of establishing his love through some large, irrevocable act whose meaning no one could ever deny, something better than the everyday, ambiguous half-measures and failures to find quite the right tone that he seemed condemned to endure, that most fathers must endure, he supposed.
He remembered a family who had lived in his neighborhood when he was a child. The man, his wife, and their son had kept to themselves, with little energy for social life. Daryl could recall none of their names. The son, a teenager during Daryl’s childhood, had suffered from some muscle disease, some form of MS, all his features either bulging or slack, badly modeled clay.
He couldn’t walk on his own and spoke in a series of grunts and squeals that only his parents understood, and which Daryl found terrifying, the yelping of a beaten dog. Every day the man would walk the boy for miles around the neighborhood, block after block, all the way out to the edge of the farm country and back, summer and winter, freezing or dripping with sweat, lifting his son’s bulky torso against his own chest and moving the boy’s twisted legs for him, wrestling him through the world, as intimate as any love-making.
Daryl’s mother told him the man and his son lived this torment so the boy’s limbs and organs wouldn’t become clogged with fluid. Movement was the only way to keep the boy alive, she said, and his father was determined to keep him alive, even if it meant giving up a career and any other happiness for himself. Daryl would never have wanted Bryan to suffer as that boy had suffered, but he envied the purity of the father’s task, the obvious and tangible evidence of his devotion.
He had tried to explain this feeling to Jeannine, one night after Bryan had been read to and put to bed, during one of those conversations that always threatened to cloud into argument, when they were circling the still unspoken idea of divorce. She hadn’t understood. There always had been just that failure to empathize between them, especially when they unveiled their most awkward, possibly shameful emotions. She frowned.
“You wish Bryan were sick?” she said. “So you could be a hero by sacrificing yourself?”
That wasn’t what he meant. Daryl wanted to tell her that he didn’t think the man had sacrificed himself. Rather, he and his son had shared a sort of ecstasy, but he saw Jeannine tilting her face toward him expectantly and incredulously, as she did when she was about to demolish some foolish idea of his. He said nothing.
On Saturday morning, the morning after finding the monkey, Daryl picked Bryan up at Jeannine’s, and they headed into their weekend routine. It was cold for October, and little squalls of rain spat at the windshield. Daryl figured the rain would keep them inside all afternoon. Without the opportunity for one of the long nature hikes that Bryan liked, there wasn’t a lot for them to do. Daryl knew they were going to end up lazy on the couch, Bryan blasting zombies to scarlet goo in one of his games, while Daryl read or watched something inane on cable. He spent the weeks waiting for this time together, and yet, all too often, the weekends amounted to a forgettable gray drift toward Sunday evening.
“Hey,” Daryl said in the car, trying to sound enthusiastic as he smiled at Bryan in the rear-view mirror, “want to go bowling?”
Bryan seemed actually to consider it, then shook his head, watching the rain make crooked trails on his window.
“Come on, you used to love it. And you’re pretty good.”
Bryan shrugged. “I suck at bowling. I used to be too little to know the difference.”
They walked through the mall, Bryan ducking into electronics stores to try out coveted new devices and Daryl trying not to be conspicuous about staring at the too-young women striding confidently around them in tight jeans and sweaters. They had hamburgers and French fries for lunch.
“Tell me about school.”
“You know. It’s the same.”
“How’re your friends? Have you been sleeping over at Matt’s lately?”
“He moved. Sandy Callison broke her arm in gym.”
“Ouch. You see it?”
“I saw her fall. That was all. She just went to the nurse, and I guess they called her mom to come and get her. She had a cast the next day.”
Daryl watched Bryan eat. Bryan was small for ten and not physically adventurous. When they went for hikes, Bryan held his arms close to his body and watched where he stepped. He had black hair like Jeannine and her pale skin. His round glasses magnified the blue eyes he had also gotten from her. He was going to grow into a slight but beautiful man. Daryl wanted to reach across the table and stroke Bryan’s still unbristled cheek with the backs of his fingers. Bryan sprinkled vinegar on his fries, the way Daryl liked them. Daryl knew that when Bryan was with Jeannine, he diplomatically ate ketchup.
Back at Daryl’s apartment, they settled on the couch for a long afternoon in the rainy light from the windows. Daryl rubbed his eyes and wondered if he could risk a nap now without regretting it later. Bryan paused his game and went to the kitchen to forage for snacks, and as soon as Daryl heard the refrigerator snick open, he remembered what was in there. He was off the couch and headed for the kitchen without having to think, reflexively, as if Bryan were in danger
Bryan was standing in the cold glow from the refrigerator, holding the monkey under its arms and lifting its face up to his, as if about to give the animal a kiss. Its feet dangled to Bryan’s knees. He looked at Daryl and said, “Wow.”
“Watch out, he might bite you!” Daryl warned.
Bryan laughed but moved his head back an inch, as if half believing.
“Wow,” he repeated, his voice still bordering on the incredulous but delighted. “You have a tamarin.”
“A golden tamarin, Dad. They live in South America. How did you get it?”
“Oh. I meant to Google what kind of monkey he is.”
Bryan looked at Daryl levelly.
“It’s a girl tamarin, Dad.”
“Oh.” Daryl laughed, a little uneasily, glancing down between the monkey’s thighs. “I should have paid more attention. I meant to find out what kind of monkey she is, then.”
Bryan was stroking the collar of fur around the monkey’s face, smiling. Daryl was not sure that letting Bryan carry the monkey back into the living room was the right thing, but Bryan was so happy that he couldn’t say no—though Daryl did hear his own, long-deceased father, somewhere in the back of his head, saying, “No,” quite distinctly, and he knew that level-headed Jeannine would have sided with his father.
“Wow,” he repeated, his voice still bordering on the incredulous but delighted. “You have a tamarin.”
Bringing the dead animal home with him had no doubt been foolish, though it didn’t quite feel like a corpse filled with sagging organs and fluids—more like some master toymaker’s fantastic construct of wire and silk. Last night, he had brought it home with some vague idea of finding the owner and at least letting them know what had happened. Someone might want to bury the body. It was so clean and healthy-looking that Daryl figured someone had cared for it greatly.
“Only for a few minutes, right? Then she has to go back in the fridge. I’m still not sure just what I’m going to do with her. She can’t stay in the vegetable crisper forever.”
Bryan propped the monkey up beside him, as if it were watching him shoot zombies or offering gaming advice. After a while, Daryl heard Bryan whispering and almost asked him to speak up, when he realized Bryan had forgotten Daryl was in the room.
The Colonel looked at the photo on Guzman’s phone. It wasn’t a clear image, but one taken at twilight in the shadows of the tall trees around the house. The man’s face was a pale, floating patch, but the Colonel brought the phone close and tried to see details, wanting to recognize the trespasser if he ever saw him again. Whoever the man was, he was carrying Luisa clamped against his chest, her arms and feet dangling, head lolling, unconscious or dead. The Colonel recognized the trees, the driveway. This stranger had walked right up to the Colonel’s own house and had taken Luisa.
“Can they do anything to make the face clearer? Sometimes that is possible.”
“Perhaps,” Guzman said. “I will ask Springer.”
The Colonel nodded and handed the phone back.
“How long have they been watching the house?”
“Since the beginning, presumably.”
“Yes. And you knew they were watching. And you didn’t tell me.”
“No, I didn’t know, but I guessed it might be so, and I called Springer and asked about Luisa, and he sent the photo from their camera. You have to agree, it is what we would have done in their place.”
“Yes.” He considered. “But why did Springer give you this? Now we know that he is watching.”
Guzman waved the question away.
“I told him that we had known all along. I insisted. He had to admit it.”
It was late. The Colonel felt old and tired. His flesh was soft on his bones, and his belly was hanging over the front of his pants. There had been many years of secrets and whispers, of business done at night, in the back of a car, or in some isolated shed where flies were buzzing over someone’s blood.
Luisa had been swinging lifelessly from the man’s hands. It would be hard to trace him, having only this poor photograph to go on, but Guzman was good at finding people who wanted to hide.
“Springer will help. He owes me that much. I want you to find this man for me,” the Colonel said. “Don’t hurt him. I want you to find what he loves and kill it.”
Guzman left. The Colonel wondered if everything Guzman had told him was precisely true, or if his bodyguard was, perhaps, in league with Springer and the FBI or the CIA or the DEA—he couldn’t keep track of which agency he was dealing with this week, didn’t give a fuck about their initials—helping them keep the dangerous, mad Colonel under control and run him like a rat in a maze toward a promise of peace that might not exist, might be only a lure, a lie. He was familiar with men who knew how to lie.
The Colonel walked upstairs to his bedroom. It was as spartan and precise as the army barracks of his youth, the bed that he made every morning himself, the table with a few necessary items arranged in neat rows, his stack of bedside books, history and crime novels, because nothing else was of any interest. The only thing that might have seemed out of place was the round wicker basket where Luisa had slept next to his bed.
He undressed to his T-shirt and boxer shorts and lay down, remembering love-making with his first Luisa, able to recall distinctly the details of many particular times when they were young together, in many different bedrooms, as he had advanced in rank and position and they had moved from city to city, from poverty to wealth, but always Luisa had been the same to him, the warm sweetness of her skin, her eyes, her wantonness and pleasure when she had him in her mouth, which would have been such a surprise to those who thought they knew his demure and publicly restrained wife, the wetness between her thighs and the way she would pull his hands up to hold her breasts when she moved on top of him, her telling him, while they made love, about her fantasies of him fucking other women.
It was a secret that only Luisa had known—even Guzman, who knew everything else, would have been as shocked as those in the army, in the government, among the tin-and-tar-paper shacks of the poor who feared him—that the Colonel had never slept with any other woman. The torturer, the killer, the strong arm of a dictator, had desired no other than his wife. Of course, it would have been easy for a man of great power to find other women, and he wasn’t an unattractive man. There had been opportunities, but none of them mattered —he would have lain on the ground and kissed the bottoms of Luisa’s feet, rather than spend a night with the entire harem of film stars he had dreamed of before knowing her.
After his wife had died, the Colonel had longed to follow her, and he might have done so, but one morning the beautiful little monkey had appeared on the balcony, as if it had sought him out with intention, leaving the jungle at the edge of the city, avoiding the dangers of the slums it had to cross, and entering the government compound as undetected as the most skilled spy. That first morning, it had come to him without fear and had taken a piece of fruit from his hand as if he were an old friend. She wore no collar, and he would never put a collar around her neck.
Before long, the second Luisa had begun sleeping beside his bed and had become his constant companion. The Colonel did not believe, as some of those around him maliciously whispered that he believed, that the monkey was his wife, returned in this form from the dead.
Nevertheless, some nights, when he propped himself up on pillows for the half-hour of reading that was necessary to quiet the day’s worries in his mind, he would look up from his book to find the monkey sitting beside him, watching him from a corner of the mattress, her soft brown eyes seeming to hold more human wisdom than they could possibly have truly held, that gaze reminding him of his wife, to the point that he almost spoke to her and almost expected an answer.
And perhaps the desire that came back to him was the answer, as tender memories of his wife moved him to touch himself in ways that would have been familiar to her, and the second Luisa watched, attentive, curious and intelligent, from her perch at the edge of the bed, as he spoke the name “Luisa.”
The second night after she had disappeared or been stolen, the Colonel lay on his bed and wept. If Luisa’s coming to him had meant that his life should continue, what did her vanishing mean?
“Damn it, Daryl. A monkey, for Christ’s sake? You let him sleep with a fucking dead monkey that you found beside the road? Explain that to me, Daryl.”
Daryl didn’t like the way Jeannine kept using his name on the phone, as if he were one of her employees, one of the junior social workers in her department. Repeating the other person’s name in a conversation was a management tool, a way of letting him know you were in charge, and it helped in remembering the names of inferiors. She was managing him. Or would have been, if she had been less angry.
“I didn’t let him, no. He carried it around for while, and I made him put it away, but when I went to tuck him in, he was already asleep, holding it again. I took it away from him while he slept, but when I woke him this morning, he had it. He must have gotten up in he night and took it from the refrigerator. I didn’t hear him. I didn’t let him.”
She was silent, as if waiting for him to come to the part of the story that would make sense to her, but there was nothing to add. “Sorry for all this,” Daryl said.
“You think this is funny. Just one of your eccentricities. Bryan is in the bathtub. I put him there, and I told him to stay until I come to get him out. He had better not have lice, and you’d better get rid of it, Daryl. You have no idea what diseases you might have exposed Bryan to. What if he gets sick? Whose fault will it be? Goddamn it, I should see a lawyer about revoking your custody. Do you want that, Daryl?”
“What in hell were you thinking? Just consider your choices this weekend, Daryl. Think about it carefully. If you’ve ever wondered why we aren’t married anymore, this should tell you something.”
She hung up. Daryl supposed she was right. He had been irresponsible.
He had dropped Bryan off at the curb and watched until he was inside, without going in to risk seeing Jeannine himself, not wanting her to read guilt on his face, but his phone had started vibrating even before he had finished the ten-minute drive back to his apartment building.
He had not answered until she tried a second time, as he was unlocking his door, the phone buzzing in his shirt pocket with what seemed her own irritated urgency. The conversation had gone about as he expected. Earlier in the day, he had tried to suggest that Bryan not mention the monkey to his mother, though never asking him to lie outright. Bryan must have been too excited to keep it to himself.
The Colonel slept in the car on the way to Chicago. Leaning against the door on the broad back seat, with Guzman and the driver speaking softly in the front about baseball and women until their voices were a brown, inarticulate drone that seemed no more human or personal than the burr of the tires on the road, the Colonel fell asleep like an old man, relaxing compactly into himself, his knobby wrists folded across his knees, chin tilting through increments toward his collarbone.
The autumnal stubblefields of northern Indiana flowed past in the window. It was a gray day, a gray landscape creased with farm roads under the gray sky, wisps of fog over the ponds and irrigation ditches like bits of blown lint. Crows left off their tearing at shapeless masses of fur and flew up as they passed.
Though never completely unconscious that he was riding in the back of the car, the Colonel dreamed that he was warm. It was many years ago, and his wife was holding him, skin to skin all along the length of their bodies. She smelled like cinnamon and mint. He woke and felt cheated by waking and looked out of the window and was quiet.
The Colonel had been awake most of the night before, thinking about the man who had taken Luisa. Guzman had spent a lot of time on the internet and talking on the phone, but had found out nothing, yet. The Colonel remembered a time when there had been a puny, ineffective movement of rebels in his country.
The leader of the rebels had hidden in the mountains and had convinced some of the wild native tribes to side with him, so that even the army would have had a hard time flushing him out of his den. But, instead of spending months or years chasing the rebel through the hinterlands, the Colonel had the man’s daughter kidnapped, and, even though everyone claimed not to know where the rebel leader was and not to have any way of contacting him, he learned what had happened and turned himself over to police two days later, downcast and in despair, knowing that his struggle had come to nothing.
Rather than executing the once hopeful revolutionary, the Colonel had his daughter, six or seven years old, killed in front of him, and then he was blinded so this last sight would stay fresh with him, and the Colonel set the rebel free to be a reminder to the discontented of the price of revolt. He thought of this on the way to see Springer. In his few and shallow minutes of rest the night before, his dreams had confused the rebel’s daughter with Luisa.
Springer was waiting for them on the fifteenth floor of the innocent-looking building with its view of cold, lacy breakers scrolling up onto the beach from Lake Michigan. It was a rich, comfortable room, with thick cushions on the chairs and a polished walnut table where they would talk, a coffee-maker with China cups and saucers, not paper, in the corner.
The frost-white carpet was virginal, except for the trellis of parallel lines inscribed by a vacuum cleaner’s wheels, and thick enough that their shoes left indented footprints in the clean surface, like walking on new snow. The Colonel was contemptuous of the carpet, of the lying gestures toward comfort. He knew an interrogation room when he saw one.
Springer rose from his chair and wanted to shake the Colonel’s hand. In his months of being interrogated, the Colonel had not ceased being amused by this need to shake hands at the beginning and end of every session, as if they were friends meeting casually, or at least conducting a friendly business deal, rather than this endless, tiresome probing of the Colonel’s sins, the fates and likely whereabouts of notable disparus, the web of ambiguous tensions and cooperations linking his former government and the narcotics cartels, the decades-past crimes against humanity of old friends who would have him assassinated, if they ever discovered where Springer was keeping him hidden. Always there was this ritual personal contact, as if to testify to their unarmed goodwill, though the Colonel was certain both hands had always been given in bad faith.
Today he ignored the offered hand. Springer’s smile faded. He shrugged and gestured toward the table. “Let’s sit,” he said.
The Colonel lowered himself into the chair. Simultaneously, he felt the age in his joints as his weight left them, and he felt like a spoiled child who was about to thrust his lower lip out stubbornly and refuse to answer any questions.
He also sensed obscurely that he had lost some kind of contest in rejecting Springer’s handshake, perhaps revealing something intimate about his mood that the other man could use against him. Springer lifted the screen of his computer and angled it away, so that the Colonel could not see what he was reading, as he considered where to start this session.
The Colonel took the initiative.
“We need a new house-keeper.”
“Yes, Guzman told me. I gather he is not very adept with a broom, himself.” The Colonel ignored this attempt at humor.
Then Springer seemed to remember something and to consider. He looked up from the screen that had been distracting him.
“He told me about your pet, too. I’m sorry.”
The Colonel did not like the word “pet.” It was a diminishment of Luisa, a word that one might use in speaking to a child. It turned her into a thing, a sentimental toy, and made his need of her ridiculous. Springer had chosen it carefully. The Colonel said nothing, but his hands closed into fists in the pockets of his jacket. He was angry and very tired. He wanted everything in this ruined world to come to an end.
“You know, maybe we can help, if it is really that important to you. Guzman told me you want to find her, or if not her, at least the man in the photo I gave him. He showed you the photo? That isn’t much to go on, I couldn’t promise, but the Bureau has resources….” Springer paused, a used car salesman about to reveal the tiny catch in the great bargain he was offering. The Colonel sat like stone and let him talk. “Maybe we could find her for you, but it might not be easy, and I don’t think I could justify the time, unless you can give me some better intel than you have been giving me. There are questions about your links to certain organizations that represent potential security threats….”
The Colonel rose his feet, as fluidly as a man thirty years younger. He had understood, suddenly.
They had her.
Of course, they had Luisa, and they were going to use her against him, for leverage.
Springer was rising, too, thrusting out his open palm toward the Colonel, saying, absurdly, “Whoa there, big guy.”
The Colonel grabbed Springer’s wrist and wrenched the arm behind his back, thrusting, slamming the agent’s face onto the table. Springer was yelling for help, which would arrive quickly, but the Colonel held him there and flicked the razor open in his other hand. He drew the edge across Springer’s throat, pressing the blade hard into soft flesh, stopping his voice. This would ruin the elegant carpet. The Colonel was glad for that.
Daryl decided to have the monkey—the tamarin, he corrected himself, with a smile—stuffed and to give her to Bryan, maybe for Christmas, or maybe, if he couldn’t postpone the pleasure, simply the next weekend his son was over. He thought, vaguely, that there were laws against owning exotic animals without a permit, but he would tell the taxidermist that he hadn’t owned her when she was alive. There was no obvious wound to explain her death, but, parting her hair, Daryl found a rough abrasion hidden on the side of her head, just behind her ear.
Perhaps she had scampered out into the road and had received a glancing blow from a car’s bumper, and that had been enough. Life was fragile, death bitter and easy to find. The tamarin was so delicately luxuriant that he could believe it hadn’t taken much of a blow to kill her. She had spent the weekend in Daryl’s refrigerator but was beginning to emit a sour odor, nonetheless. He would find a taxidermist today, if possible. He imagined her stuffed and arranged on a branch, perhaps attached to the wall of Bryan’s bedroom or hanging from the ceiling.
Jeannine might not like it, but so what? Daryl didn’t see how Bryan could contract any diseases from a stuffed monkey.
Daryl was aware that he had seldom been a good father when he and Jeannine were married. He had not been actively bad, but he was inattentive, wrapped up in his own sadness, ignoring opportunities to show Bryan how much he enjoyed being a father, and then was astonished at his own pain when he was separated from Bryan.
Though Bryan was eight years old when the divorce became final, Daryl found himself during those first weeks in agony whenever he saw a young couple with an infant in the checkout line at the grocery store or sitting together on a bench, the mother’s and father’s heads inclined privately over their child, the rest of the world passing by unnoticed. His arms ached with the need to hold a baby, as he had heard happened to some women when they passed child-bearing age. The memory of happiness melted numbly in his chest, like a chunk of ice turning to vapor. His sorrow drove him wild for a time.
One night during the first year, Daryl shows up at the door, late, knocking louder than he means to knock, his own body only approximately under his control, trembling. Jeannine’s footsteps come toward him from deep in the back of the house. She switches lights on as she comes.
“I want to see Bryan,” he says. “I know it is a school night, and he needs to be in bed soon, you don’t need to tell me, but only for a few minutes. Please.” He tries to explain that he needs to anchor himself into his life by sitting with his son and ruffling his hair in the ordinariness of time and hearing his voice, that he must collect small details of Bryan’s days like sustaining crumbs.
“You can’t just show up on your own schedule, Daryl,” she says. “This isn’t good for Bryan. How can I trust you, when you do this?”
Jeannine stands in the doorway, forcing Daryl to petition her from the stoop, and she refuses to let him in, refuses to send Bryan out or even to tell him that Daryl is there. She says Bryan is in the bathroom, brushing his teeth for bed, already in his pajamas. She says Daryl is drunk, but he has only been crying in grief. Jeannine is unmoved, exasperated with his foolishness. Daryl falls to his knees in the light from the open door and feels the cold concrete beneath him. He begs to speak to his son, already seeing that it is hopeless. The night is large and formless and hungry at his back, and there is no moon.
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