Fiction

Night Wind Rising - Part 2

By Reinaldo E. Grandal

The muffled, distant sound of breaking glass came from upstairs. I stubbed out a half-smoked cigarette and quickly rose, instinctively grabbing a thirty-five millimeter camera loaded with infrared film from my bag and flinging the door open.

As I approached the stairs, Vaughn came out of his room, cut me off and rushed up the steps, his potent-looking nickel-plated Magnum in his fist.

I followed him as quickly as I could. When I reached the unlit upper hallway, I saw him, Lombardi, Clayton and Martinez standing in the light that came from Martinez' bedroom. Martinez stood transfixed, her glass now by her feet, a pool of liquid and shattered crystal on the carpeted floor. Clayton held his own pistol absently in his right hand. His left was held over his nose and mouth. As I approached, the odor assaulted my senses as well, that same sick odor I had noticed earlier in the "cold spot" in my room. I ordered myself to hold my stomach contents down, looked at the others and then went into the bedroom.

Above the dresser, where there had previously been a blank space of lightly colored wallpaper, blood had been smeared. I looked more closely and wondered if I only imagined the chunks of gelatinous flesh, intermingled in the crimson, hanging loosely, sliding snail-like down the wall, pushing rivulets of blood before them. The stench of death was bludgeoning.

The gore had been scrawled in insane brush strokes to form three words: No me traiciones.

Don't betray me.

"Vaughn. First floor and basement," Lombardi snapped. "Clayton. Outside, front and back."

Vaughn composed himself. "Right," he shot back as he turned to the stairs. Clayton followed wordlessly.

I snapped several shots of the wall and then studied Martinez. The rigid self-control was still evident. "Whom would you betray?" I queried.

Her eyes reverted from the hellish graffiti and drilled through mine.

"Goodnight," I said, and returned to my room.

I lay in bed awake a good portion of the night, hearing the wind outside and the others' footsteps as Clayton and Vaughn returned from their fruitless search for flesh-and-bone adversaries and helped Lombardi and Martinez clean the mess from Martinez' bedroom wall. How many had she betrayed, I asked myself, how many souls had she trampled to attain her former rank? How many had done the same, how many of them had, after all, deserved it?

All of them, I thought, save one.

Constantino Martinez Lopez.

The next morning's rain pelted the kitchen windows as Lombardi sipped coffee and I read the Times.

Martinez strode into the kitchen. Clayton and Vaughn followed.

"Good morning," I said amiably.

She silently grabbed her jacket from the back of a kitchen chair and marched toward the front door, with Clayton directly behind her.

"I'm going, too," Vaughn told Lombardi. He turned to me. "You need smokes?"

I shook my head.

The three exited.

"Lombardi," I said, not taking my eyes from the paper.

"Yes?"

"You've told me that this safe house has no history of things going bump in the night."

"Correct."

"Yet we know something more than natural is occurring here now."

"Yes." She looked out at the rain.

"You people have other safe houses, yet you insist on keeping Martinez here. It just occurs to me that you might be taking advantage of the situation, using the haunting to sweat something out of her."

She looked at me incredulously. "She came to us, remember? Besides, if we wanted to sweat something out of her," she responded coldly, "we wouldn't need to use ghosts."

I set down the paper and finally looked at her. "All I'm saying is that it seems too coincidental that a house with no history of haunting suddenly becomes haunted when she arrives. If there's a connection between the phenomena in this house and her defection, I'm in a position to help you if you tell me what to look for."

"She defected because her boss was losing it. Fidel realizes that Communism's days are numbered in Cuba, yet he's been going on about the Revolution 'rising like wind in the night.' She was dyed-in-the-wool, but she wasn't insanely fanatical. She got out before Fidel did something crazy."

"What could he do?"

"Cuban naval activity has increased drastically, especially around the Cienfuegos area on the southern coast. We have no idea what he's up to. Martinez claims to have gotten out before he confided in her."

"And you believe her?"

"What are you getting at?"

I scratched my beard. "I don't know. Something about her eyes, about the way she carries herself. I can tell she's used to playing her cards close to the chest, to getting her way through intimidation. She's a cool customer. Last night, though, she should have been more shocked, taken by surprise at least, less..."

"Cognizant?"

"Yeah."

She drained her cup, set it on the table and said, "I'll tell you what."

"What?"

"About some connection between her and the haunting?"

"Yes?"

"You may be right."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Lombardi."

I was lighting a cigarette when I thought I heard several light squeaks. Thinking it was my chair, I folded the Times and, cigarette in mouth, went to my room and retrieved the camera from my bag. I looked around the downstairs part of the house,searching for "cold spots," finding none and returning to the kitchen. Lombardi was pouring herself another cup of coffee.

I heard several more squeaks. Curiosity forced me to put out my cigarette, stand still and listen. I turned to Lombardi. It was obvious that she had also heard. She calmly set her cup by the sink and retrieved a Walther from her purse.

Again, the sounds, but now they were not squeaks. They were titters.

Thinking that perhaps the others had returned, I walked into the living room and found no one.

"Clayton," I said aloud.

Again, the laughter. It was definitely male, yet the pitch suggested giddiness, or madness. It seemed to come from upstairs.

"King," Lombardi whispered, apprehension in her eyes.

I put my finger to my lips and motioned her to follow. We walked around to the foot of the stairs, and I called Vaughn's name. There was silence and I mounted the first step.

A klaxon sounded, and we froze. Again I felt goose bumps and the acidic sensation at the back of my tongue. The klaxon had only sounded once, but the echo lingered for long seconds, an other-worldly sound.

We got halfway up the stairs when we heard male voices creating an incomprehensible background hum. One clear, commanding voice counted down in Russian. I reached the top of the stairs, with Lombardi close behind, and approached the doorway to Martinez' bedroom by the time the voice had counted down from deciat to piache. A shadow of the tortured spectral message that had been left the night before was still on the wall, a brown stain of memory.

"Chetere," the voice intoned.

Another single word had been scrawled over it, also in blood, written in desperation.

"Tre."

I snapped a shot of the wall.

"Dva."

Lombardi and I started to back out of the room.

"Odne."

The roar of missiles being launched filled the room and would have deafened us had it not been muffled, as if it came from underwater. It gradually faded to nothing, and then a single haggard word was whispered, and I felt dampness in my crotch, and then the blast came.

We were sent flying. Lombardi's back was pounded against the far wall of the hallway, her pistol dropping impotently to the carpet. My shoulder hit the wall and I went down.

Before us was no longer Martinez' bedroom, but a panorama of earth, sea and sky. In its center was a blinding ball of light from which had sprouted a mushroom-shaped cloud.

The image slowly disappeared and we could once again see into Martinez' bedroom. I looked at the wall. The shadow of the message persisted. I somehow knew that however many times one might try to scrub that wallpaper, or tear it off, or smash the plaster to the bare foundation, a trace of the petition would always remain.

With it remained one other word, printed by the ghostly hand of the same tormented spirit who had gasped it before the world had ended before our eyes: Nena.

Little girl.