Fate had brought his daughter here. For the last month of her
life shed run around this park, and there on the far side, beyond bushes and
trees, he lost her to view. He believed he could hear her then, a sort of
whispering pant, like a sound she made in her sleep, but she wasnt calling him
to come drive away the spooks of her dreams. She was simply on the dark side of
He had no idea of the expression that had appeared on his face.
But when Madeline Pratt said, "I cant let you do this," she was clearly more
concerned for his well-being than her own, and he didnt want that.
"Take me there now," he said. "I want to stand on the spot."
The building occupied the entire side of the block, tan-colored
stucco alternating with columns of brick; it was four stories high, its two
visible corners dominated by guard towers. There was a guard booth at the
driveway leading in. From the sidewalk where he stood he estimated the distance
across the street to where two Civil Guards patrolled their stretch of sidewalk
at sixty feet. The Civil Guards were dressed in a darker, denser green than army
green and carried machine guns slung over their shoulders. Sixty feet was the
distance separating a pitcher from a batter. As a teenager he had pitched. These
two Civil Guards might have been teenagers themselves. They had fresh bony faces
that looked struck from the same Spanish mold. They had vigorous eyebrows and
hair along their upper lips. The predecessor of one of them had not survived.
Ben asked Madeline Pratt where, and she moved them farther along the sidewalk,
up from the headquarters entrance. When she stopped, he estimated the distance
between them and those two patrolling boys now at ninety feet, or the distance
between home plate and first base. As well as Madeline Pratt could remember, his
daughter had died here. There was a tree just inside the park, one of those low
gnarled trees with what looked like carob pods hanging from its limbs. He could
see how the bark had been blown away. What remained of the tree looked
indestructible. The car loaded with dynamite had been parked almost directly
across from the entrance where the two Civil Guards patrolled. And the blast had
caught her here.
"What kind of car?"
Madeline Pratt had newspaper clippings from that day. As
documents pertaining to the center shed felt obligated to keep them. He could
consult the clippings.
But she must have remembered the car.
She nodded. It was a Seat Ibiza. She looked up the street and
raised her hand and pointed at an unexceptional white car wedged into a parking
"Like that one," she said.
It was a hatchback model. It had no trunk. There would be a
storage area for luggage, but anyone peering in . . .
"And other than my daughter and that Civil Guard . . . ?"
"Two more people were slightly injured, and there was a lot of
shattered glass. But I hope youll believe me when I say it was truly miraculous
that there were no other casualties. I know thats small consolation."
"Its been two years and eight months since it happened. Look
around. If you didnt notice that tree, youd never know. That building looks
like it never got touched."
"They had to rebuild some. They put up a plaque beside the
"I dont want to see it. What does it say? Does it even mention
Madeline Pratt bowed her head. "No," she whispered,
stage-whispered in the traffic noise, the noise of concentrated human
habitation, "its what they always say when a Civil Guard is killed, that he
died for the glory of his country."
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