Ningún Santuario Pt. 20 – Finale
What followed plays out in my memory like the recollection of a fever dream. I raised my hands and dropped to the floor leaving the officers with a clear view of Arturo’s mangled face as he passed through the back door, swinging the bloody machete at his side. They shouted “Hands up!” three times with increasing intensity but he continued to lumber forward. Immediately after the third warning, they opened fire. All six officers unloaded their clips causing Arturo to lurch back, regain his footing, move forward and get knocked back again. Echoes of the multiple reports still ringing in the air, he finally fell to the ground and slumped onto his side. They approached him with guns drawn and cuffed his hands behind his back. Then they did the same to me.
I was tossed into a cruiser and transported to SFPD Headquarters on Camino Entrada while Arturo and Martinez were loaded into an ambulance.
For a couple of weeks, I was treated like a suspect in the murders of the two police officers. But when the autopsy results on Arturo came in and it was found that there was no blood flowing through his body and none of his vital organs had been functional for months, the detectives had no choice but to shift their focus. All of the blood on Arturo’s face during the struggle on the balcony had come from Martinez; Arturo had used his teeth to rip a large chunk of flesh from Martinez’ cheek. The coroner declared that Arturo’s body showed months of decomposition and yet a half dozen police officers attested to the fact that he was very much alive when they arrived on the scene. A team of detectives with knowledge of the rituals and beliefs of Santa Muerte were brought up from Mexico to assist with the investigation. When they questioned me, the local cops quickly realized from their matter-of-fact acceptance of the things I told them that this was not your run-of-the-mill murder case.
When my usefulness to the investigation was exhausted, I gave two weeks notice at my job and hit the road for a 2,000 mile return trip to the east coast. This time, I kept to the major highways and only stopped for gas and food at busy truck stops and tourist rest areas. Just outside of Vega, TX, I had to swerve hard to avoid hitting a massive tumbleweed rolling across the blacktop. In my rearview mirror, I watched its lazy meanderings until the distance rendered it invisible.
Andrew Guilden hadn’t shown up for work in two weeks. After his disastrous ad pitch to the JetBlue execs, he started running across a man in a bloody and rumpled police uniform everywhere he went. The man’s eyes were dead, shot through with gray lines, and a chunk of flesh was missing from his right cheek. He never spoke, but simply stared menacingly at Andrew until he left the establishment. Andrew had seen him in the library, the coffee shop, the convenience store — everywhere but his condo, which he hadn’t left for five days now, scared to even step outside to grab the newspaper from the stoop.
Somehow, Andrew knew that this man’s presence had something to do with Arturo Capella. He also knew that his life was in danger, though he couldn’t reasonably explain to anyone why he felt that way.
The grave was a simple dirt mound with a plywood crucifix bearing the name Miguel Ángel Martinez. Three men in black suits prayed over the burial site before walking back down the hill from the unofficial family cemetery in the dusty badlands just outside Oaxaca.