“I’m satisfied that we went global,” I say, pulling out my cellphone. “Let’s find out what else is going on. Check your news apps, I’ll check mine.”
We do our searches for a few minutes before Brendali speaks up.
“I glanced at a few brief articles. Spontaneous demonstrations and protests are erupting all over the world. Catholics, Muslims and Jews are united in anger in the Middle East. Maybe peace will finally break out once they get over the shock. Their beloved God’s gone and they’re not buying the new one.”
“He delivered his message.” Brendali turns off her iPad and returns it to the drawer. “Now he’ll watch our emotions boil over and decide we’ve failed his test before we take it.”
“I’ll check the news again in the morning. Whatever we’re in for around the globe should’ve happened by then.” I glance at the shoji screen to Brendali’s right, wondering if changing the subject will help take her mind off God. “You know, I really hit the jackpot with your hiring. Even this new God says we’ll work well together.
Whether he’s legit or not, he got that right.”
She reaches for her hairbrush. “I’m comfortable working with
· 43 ·
you, and thrilled to have left Mexico. No one tries to kill me here.”
Okay, some distraction may work. “We learned a lot about each other in Veracruz, but you didn’t tell me how you decided on a career in journalism. What brought that about?”
Brendali removes her hand from mine and goes quiet, tightening the grip on her brush. I meant to distract her from this God issue that’s upset her, not raise a sensitive topic. “If you’d rather not answer, that’s fine. I only asked out of curiosity.”
“It’s okay, you didn’t know any better. My cousin Lilia inspired me.” She shifts her braid so it hangs in front of her, fiddles with the loose hair at the end and closes her eyes.
Reluctant to probe further, I wait her out.
Once Brendali’s eyes open she stares into the mirror. Her voice, an anguished low monotone, makes me strain to hear what she’s saying although I’m right behind her.
“My parents and their relatives lived in a little village near San Blas, in Sinaloa. One day a narco gang came into the bar where my Uncle Berto worked. They shot up the place. No one survived except Berto, who’d gone to the back room for supplies.”
Brendali’s hands move in front of her mouth, probably for a silent prayer. I move the tissue box closer to her. She’s fixated on the mirror and doesn’t notice.
“Later that night, because a rumor spread that Berto could identify those pinche culeros, they broke into his house and pumped bullets into him. They also shot and killed his fiancée, Brenda, and their three-year old, Lilia, who they shot in the head and chest. Can you imagine?”
Her groans and gasps tell me how much she’s hurting. I rub her upper arms in a lame attempt to provide comfort. “Sorry I brought this up, Brendali. What an awful tragedy.” How does a family recover from something like that? I don’t know what else to say.
She knocks her hair brush to the floor. The brush and my apology are ignored while the mirror holds her in thrall. If she could shoot those narcos through it, she would.
· 44 ·
“Those cholos bought off the local police.” Brendali’s anger is clear from the tone of her voice. “No trials, punishment or justice of any kind. Lilia’s death has haunted me ever since my mamá told me about it. I want to find those bastards, make them tell me why they killed her. When they do I swear it, I’ll spit in their faces for Lilia.”
She spits on the mirror and points her middle fingers at the imaginary villains.
I pick up the brush and try to hand it to her. She ignores me.
How such a beautiful face can transform so fast into a mask of profound sadness and rage is beyond me. I leave the brush on her table and turn the folding chair around so I can sit on it backwards, my elbows at rest against the top of the chair.
Brendali stays preoccupied with her memories until I hear her low, urgent voice. “I went into journalism to give Lilia her revenge.
I’ve fought hard to expose the narcos and all their corruption. That the cartels ordered my death is my Oscar nomination, no? A kind of recognition that I’ve done my job well, made a difference.”
She’s glad those criminals want to kill her? I’m pleased that no one delivered the award.
“Those cholos may have run me out of Mexico, but as this new God is my judge, I swear it, I’ll keep pressuring them once this Convocation ends.”
“Mexican journalists die all the time. You chose one hell of a dangerous career and place to work in.”
She lets out a harsh laugh. “I don’t scare easy.”
“I saw that in the ambush.” What an irony. After I’m nearly shot to death, what do I do? Of course! I hire a female gunslinger. “Did your folks name you after your uncle’s girlfriend?”
“My full name is Brendali Lia Santamaria.” She starts taking off her jewelry, dropping items on the vanity as she speaks. “I’m named after them both. My parents cut Lilia’s name in half to symbolize her broken life. What do you think? Is my name an honor or a curse?”
I’ll pass on that. “You have a unique, lovely name. It fits you. I like it. Obviously, Lilia’s death had a tremendous effect on you.”
· 45 ·
“She died before my birth.” A hard edge has returned to her voice. “My dad moved our family here because another village rumor claimed that Berto told him the killers’ names. My folks didn’t attend the funerals, fearing the narcos might ambush and kill all the mourners.”
Wow, this gets worse and worse. “Excuse me for intruding into your family’s sorrow, Brendali. I had no idea.”
She applies a white cream to clean make-up off her face. “My folks left everything behind, started over and made a good life here for my brothers and me, much better than we could’ve had in Mexico. We owe them so much. My Papá, God bless him, always told us ‘as ye sow, so shall ye reap.’ He’s always lived by that and his second golden rule. I do, too.”
“Good. What’s the second rule?”
She puts her facial cream and towel on the table and turns toward me. “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”
Her emotionless, ultra-serious voice makes my spine tingle. I’ve never met a woman like this. “How do you square this revenge rule with your religious faith?”
“Oh, that’s easy. In my prayers, I ask God’s help to resolve things so revenge isn’t needed. But if resolution’s impossible, like with those cholos, I take my revenge and ask God afterward to forgive my sin. God’s always on my side, he supports and protects me. But if this new god’s real, will he? This is another thing to wonder and worry about.”
“If he’s an actual deity, he damn well better protect you, at least until this Convocation ends. He’ll need you around. I do, too. We’re confronting a huge challenge, perhaps the most significant assignment of our careers. I truly wouldn’t want any other partner by my side. I’m confident we’re up for it.”
“Don’t worry. I can handle whatever comes.” Two steps bring her to me. She reaches for my hands and takes them in hers. “Ken wants to see us. I need to change. Thanks for your support tonight.”
“Oh, I almost forgot. I have something for you.” I get to my feet,
· 46 ·
dig my hand into a pants pocket, extract a small jewelry box and hand it to Brendali. “I meant to give you this before the show.
Maybe it’s for the best that I didn’t.”
Her face lights up like a candle as she shakes the little box.
“What’s in here?” She opens it, revealing a rosary necklace. “Ram, this is so beautiful! But I can’t accept it.” She doesn’t hand the box back.
“Sure you can.” Her joy triggers my mile-wide smile. “I know how important religion is to you, and I remembered how you lost your rosary necklace in Veracruz. I bought you a new one to express my gratification that we’re working together.”
“What are the beads made of? You must’ve paid a bundle for this.” She’s raised the necklace to gaze at it through the overhead lighting.
“The red gems are garnets. The white, semi-transparent ones are Swarovski crystal. And no, it didn’t bust my budget.” I’m amused.
She’s like a little girl at Christmas.
“Wow, I’m so touched. Thank you!” She puts it on, models the necklace in the mirror by turning from side to side. “You are so thoughtful—I’m happy now!” She enthusiastically hugs me, plants a tiny kiss on my cheek and flashes me a perfect, brilliant smile.
On the way to my dressing room I’m dazed by Brendali more than I’m confused by God. Her smile will find a permanent place in my memory.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish